• Tom Lee

In Search of an Answer

In the latest of my articles dealing with the role of #photography as art, I am examining the mindset of the photographer when capturing ‘Art’. My views may seem controversial; however, I too am searching for an answer.

JMW Turner - The Fighting Temeraire

For painters, the term #art is generally accepted for any piece of work they produce (abstract, fiction, interpretive, political, religious or other genre, good or bad) because of the medium that the work is produced in. Whether it be acrylics, oils, watercolour, canvas etc; even if you don’t like the finished piece, it still gets classed as art. If you examine the content of #galleries and see the wide-ranging styles on show, you might wonder how many of them got to hang in the same room, let alone right next to each other! So, why does photography have such a struggle to be accepted by galleries and curators? After all do we not use various mediums and substrates to produce our work?

As a case in point let’s look at the work of JMW Turner, one of England’s finest classical #painters. Its difficult to see how someone who painted ‘The Fighting Temaraire’ (1839), could also come up with ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ (1844). It’s like comparing apples with pears even though the work was undertaken by the same artist. It’s as if because of his name and standing, the ‘feel’ of the 1844 image became more important than its content, and was given equal standing with the far superior content of the earlier 1839 work.


JMW Turner - Rain, Steam and Speed

It seems almost more important that the art work has to carry a ‘#meaning’ or ‘hidden message’, rather than just #aesthetics. Art history tells us that almost all paintings from the renaissance onward carried some form of political or religious meaning, but this in no way detracted from the aesthetic of the work and was a by-product of what the work was originally commissioned for. When we look at the modern photographic #artist, the trend of meaning over aesthetic prevails. If you pay a visit to the Taylor Wessing exhibition in London, the aim is to bring to the fore and highlight the work of many contemporary photographers, to ‘#enlighten’ the public as to what can be termed ‘Photographic Art’.

However, this process of ‘informing the public’ is failing. If I am feeling generous, I would say that almost half of the work exhibited last year fell way short on technical grounds alone. Somehow, fuzzy out of focus and badly printed work that has some 200-word explanation of its #content, carries more weight than a well exposed technically correct image with aesthetic appeal. Many of the #artists appear to have ‘suffered’ for their art having had impoverished backgrounds, or taken 5 years to complete the work! Its as if Vincent van Gough would never have been famous if he had failed to cut off his ear! Perhaps this is why the community shuns photography as an art form. We can produce a pile of dung much quicker and easier than a painter…..

So what is the answer? Every artist #suffers a little when being #creative (it’s called learning and experience). Even when we find our niche, we need to learn to be diverse and produce works which don’t lie in our comfort zone. But beware, be honest, don’t try and con the viewer into thinking the image is any more important than it is. Art viewers are quite intelligent and they know what they like. If the images have narrative, then the emotion and feeling will shine through regardless of its content and there is no need to waste meaningless words on an #intellectual public.

Cathedral Spires - Yosemite (Tom Lee)

The soul of the artist remains intact when they are true to themselves first, so yes, produce works which challenge the viewer, but don’t try to think outside of the box – when there is no box! According to learned peers, ‘Art’ is a collective noun for a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's #imaginative, #conceptual ideas or #technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or #emotional power. The nature of art and related concepts, such as creativity and interpretation, are explored in a branch of philosophy known as #aesthetics.

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