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Author Topic: Accidentally made a work of art?  (Read 50867 times)

Isaac

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Accidentally made a work of art?
« on: July 16, 2015, 05:50:39 PM »

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Has the person who has accidentally taken a superb photograph made a work of art?
…
… one day Rosenthal took eighteen exposures, one of which would become the most famous and reproduced photograph from the war, and he had no idea which one. … "When you take a picture like that," he said, "you don't come away saying you got a great shot. You don't know."
…
The photograph of the flag raising was arguably produced as much by the Associated Press editor who selected and cropped it for distribution as it was by Rosenthal.

"Photography and the Art of Chance"


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Some say it's the most famous, perfectly composed news photo of all time.
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luxborealis

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2015, 11:15:52 PM »

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Has the person who has accidentally taken a superb photograph made a work of art?

To answer your question - no, one cannot "accidentally" make art, not according to the definition of art I live by. I think of art as something that is intentional. It can be experimental, but even that is intentional. But more than that, the work created must also be solely the product of the artist's creative mind and aesthetic skills. Art is an ideal that few are able to achieve.

Being in the right place at the right time does not make it "art". Rosenthal's photograph may be famous and may be well-composed, but it's photojournalism – a type of documentation – not art. Culturally, we have come to call it art, because of its artistic nature, but, in my view, it isn't really art.

In fact, most of what we see and call art is not art. It's documentation, it's pictorial, it's eye-catching, it's full of design, it's aesthetic, it's beautiful (or not), but it's not art.

My working definition is this: Art is the product of a creative, expressive mind. Art is made when an artist creates something using their own creative mind and aesthetic skills.

Photographers make a photograph (that's something, isn't it), but rarely is the content a product of the photographer's own creative mind. Rosenthal didn't create the flag raising (the content that everyone raves about); he used his photojournalistic instincts and keen eye (his aesthetic skills) to record the event in an engaging and compelling way - but that doesn't make it art.

Michelangelo carved "David" from a block of marble - he created it from his own imagination using his aesthetic skills. He painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel based on what was in his head (and approved by his patron - Pope Julius II).

What about painters who paint from a photograph, though – is it art? Hmmmm... grey area here. If they paint exactly what the photograph shows, then no - they are simply using paint to document a scene from a photograph. But if they add their own creative interpretation by changing what the photograph shows or by combining photographs, then it's approaching that "ideal" of art.

What about painters who paint landscapes, the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson and Emily Carr (must see: Exhibit at the AGO - on until 9 Aug.) – they are artists. What exists on their canvases is a creation of their mind's interpretation of the scene in front of them.

Yet, some will point out that photographers add their own interpretation of a scene when they choose a lens, aperture, shutter speed, filter, perspective and composition – doesn't that make it art? My feeling is still, no. They aren't capturing something that is the product of their creative mind – all of the content captured by the photographer still existed whether or not the scene was photographed, so they are documenting. They are being very specific about what they are documenting, taking advantage of the conditions that exist at that time and place to create a compelling photograph, but it is still documentation. What would make it "art", by the definition I'm working with, would be if the photographer re-created the scene in a new way, perhaps through long exposures, camera movement, multiple exposures combined in a new way (no, not HDR!).

Is black-and-white photography art? While it is a departure from the scene, it is still not a product of the creative mind, but rather a technical process that converts what we see into a different form.

Are the photographs created by Ansel Adams art? They are artistic and certainly cutting edge for his time, but, no, by this (some would call strict) definition, they are not art because the content existed whether or not he tripped the shutter. Now, he was interpretive of the content, but anyone there at the same time would have seen the same thing. They may not have the technical skills or aesthetic eye to capture it, but the end work existed outside of the photographer's mind – in colour, mind you, but it existed. Adams captured what he saw; that's not art. Weston added even more interpretation and he certainly looked and saw more closely than most. But even his subjects existed outside of his mind. He had a wonderful aesthetic touch and skill, but he didn't create anything that didn't already exist outside of his mind.

From my perspective, artists create the thing they call art. We photographers can do this (and some do - like some of the work maddog is doing, or the smoke images by wmchauncy and the work BobDavid is doing here on LuLa, but also Jerry Uelsmann). But by far, most of us (me included) get ourselves to the right place at the right time to use our technical knowledge and aesthetic eye to capture what is already there. We don't create the thing we photograph, we capture it, then call it our own.

The problem is that, too often, we confuse technical and aesthetic competence in a specific medium with art. Art is creative and is a product of the artist's mind. The artist uses a specific medium to re-create what they imagine, not what already exists.
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Alan Klein

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2015, 12:11:49 AM »

Is the painting of the Last Supper art or some form of pictorial journalism?  Art serves little or no utilitarian function but creates an emotional feeling in the person viewing it.  Most of the times this comes from aesthetic qualities.  However, feelings can also be religious as in the Last Supper or patriotic as in the Iwo Jima photograph.    The fact the picture is drawn from light rather than oils is a difference without a distinction.
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luxborealis

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2015, 12:26:20 AM »

Is the painting of the Last Supper art or some form of pictorial journalism?  Art serves little or no utilitarian function but creates an emotional feeling in the person viewing it.  Most of the times this comes from aesthetic qualities.  However, feelings can also be religious as in the Last Supper or patriotic as in the Iwo Jima photograph.    The fact the picture is drawn from light rather than oils is a difference without a distinction.

I disagree, Alan. We, as photographers, like to think we "draw with light", but we don't. The light hits the sensor or film in a very predictable and repeatable way with no interference by the photographer - only a lens. It's a lens of their choosing, but that doesn't change the scene in front of the lens, which is what's needed for it to be art (using the definition outlined in my response).

DaVinci's "Last Supper" is completely his interpretation of the event based on the (rather sketchy) details he had. He wasn't there and no one had a photo. Rosenthal was there - his photograph is of the event itself, not his interpretation (as defined in my response) of the event. Therefore, his photo is documentation, not art. That doesn't change the emotional reaction to the content of the photograph, but Rosenthal cannot be credited with the scene in the photograph, whereas DaVinci can.
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Alan Klein

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2015, 01:33:31 AM »

It's not predictable or repeatable.  Otherwise we could stand exactly where Ansel stood and get the same shot.   Thousands have tried including putting the tripods on the exact spot the original was shot at.  And failed.  Time of day, lighting angle, perspective, content, subject's position, luck, the photographer's interpretation during the shot and in post processing and printing all play into getting a great picture that can be considered art.  It's why most shots are only snapshots - even by the experts.  Ask them, including Ansel, and you'll find only very few are outstanding shots taken over an entire career.  When you Google their name the same photos come up time after time.  Because the great ones are limited.    They really are special.  I think we all aim to get that special photo. And continue to seek them.  That's the challenge, otherwise why bother?  We're like the golfer always looking for the hole-in-one or at least a couple of birdies.  If all I sought were snapshots, I'd stop shooting.  But there's always the hope around the corner for a great one.

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amolitor

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2015, 01:53:02 AM »

Is Art defined by what it does, or how it is made?

Luxborealis, I will note merely that your view of Art is perhaps 100 years out of date, and leave it at that.

Why 'art' is a word that people somehow feel they have a personal stake in defining is something of a mystery. My feelings and ideas about the word 'dog' have no bearing, after all, and yet I could bleat on about what I 'feel' Art to be and nobody would think it odd.
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spidermike

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2015, 03:22:00 AM »



Yet, some will point out that photographers add their own interpretation of a scene when they choose a lens, aperture, shutter speed, filter, perspective and composition – doesn't that make it art? My feeling is still, no. They aren't capturing something that is the product of their creative mind – all of the content captured by the photographer still existed whether or not the scene was photographed, so they are documenting. They are being very specific about what they are documenting, taking advantage of the conditions that exist at that time and place to create a compelling photograph, but it is still documentation. What would make it "art", by the definition I'm working with, would be if the photographer re-created the scene in a new way, perhaps through long exposures, camera movement, multiple exposures combined in a new way (no, not HDR!).

Is black-and-white photography art? While it is a departure from the scene, it is still not a product of the creative mind, but rather a technical process that converts what we see into a different form.

Are the photographs created by Ansel Adams art? They are artistic and certainly cutting edge for his time, but, no, by this (some would call strict) definition, they are not art because the content existed whether or not he tripped the shutter. Now, he was interpretive of the content, but anyone there at the same time would have seen the same thing. They may not have the technical skills or aesthetic eye to capture it, but the end work existed outside of the photographer's mind – in colour, mind you, but it existed. Adams captured what he saw; that's not art. Weston added even more interpretation and he certainly looked and saw more closely than most. But even his subjects existed outside of his mind. He had a wonderful aesthetic touch and skill, but he didn't create anything that didn't already exist outside of his mind.



So what about portrait photographers? Still life photographers?

That particular 'scene' existed only because the photographer created them. So that seems to elevate them to art. There is even discussion that the Iwo Jima picture was staged by the photographer - does that suddenly elevate it to art because without him it would not have existed.
What about a (what we now call) 'photorealistic' painting - the artist is attempting to make no personal interpretation of the scene. Whether an interpretation exists or not is secondary because the intention was not to, and if he failed (ie he did include some personal interpretation) it is 'accidental and therefore 'not art' by your definition.

Then there is Pollock and his drip paintings. He splashed paint around on canvas and created painting after painting and only selected the ones that he felt had a certain balance. He knew the general thing he was trying to do but the final creation was down to luck. Not art. But I guess there will be some collectors  who wold be mighty pissed off if you told them so. Not to mention Christies and a host of auction houses.



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stamper

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2015, 03:48:01 AM »

Isaac will be happy that he has achieved what he set out to do? Started another senseless debate about what art is and isn't. :(

Diego Pigozzo

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2015, 07:46:10 AM »

Has the person who has accidentally taken a superb photograph made a work of art?

If you're asking whether that person made a work of art or no, my answer is no.
But if you're asking whether thet photograph made by that person is a work of art or no, my answer is yes.

So I think I only partially agree with luxborealis's definition of art: i agree that "Art is the product of a creative, expressive mind", but I don't agree that the mind must be that of the artist: it could be the one of the viewer.



Isaac will be happy that he has achieved what he set out to do? Started another senseless debate about what art is and isn't. :(
The debate may be senseless but that doesn't means it's useless: exploring ideas is worthed even if no conclusion is reached.
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Otto Phocus

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2015, 07:56:23 AM »

Unless Rosenthal tripped and while he was falling inadvertently hit the shutter button, he did not accidentally take any picture.

I think the actual question you intend on asking is whether any photographer has ever taken a picture that they initially thought was average but turned out, later to be very popular.  In that case yes, that happens quite often.

The only photographs I take accidentally are of my lens cap or my feet.... and strangely few people complement me on those shots.  :)
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spidermike

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2015, 09:16:14 AM »

If you're asking whether that person made a work of art or no, my answer is no.
But if you're asking whether thet photograph made by that person is a work of art or no, my answer is yes.


That really is descending into philosophical sophistry (to put it politely). What practical use is that conclusion (and by 'use' I am not referring only to the physical utilitarian but in terms of advancing a discussion)?
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spidermike

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2015, 09:17:32 AM »


I think the actual question you intend on asking is whether any photographer has ever taken a picture that they initially thought was average but turned out, later to be very popular. 


But surely if it is popular it is not art....  ;D
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Diego Pigozzo

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2015, 09:25:46 AM »

That really is descending into philosophical sophistry (to put it politely). What practical use is that conclusion (and by 'use' I am not referring only to the physical utilitarian but in terms of advancing a discussion)?
Once you realize that you're not always in "divine act of art creation" you start realizing how important is the interaction with the viewer, which may have the pratical use to improve your success has an artist.
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spidermike

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2015, 09:40:32 AM »

Firstly, I think you missed the point of my comment - the picture is a work of art but as the person who took the picture I didn't create a work of art.
It is that sort of meaningless drivel that gives philosophy of any sort a bad name.


Once you realize that you're not always in "divine act of art creation" you start realizing how important is the interaction with the viewer, which may have the pratical use to improve your success has an artist.


What about the 'artist' who does not care about 'success'. If such an artist considers he has reached a apotheosis of his 'art' who is anyone to tell him he is wrong - in which case 'connecting with the viewer' is irrelevant. And if he considers his work as 'art', then he is always in the 'divine act of art creation'* no matter what you or I think.  
Of course this all comes back to the position exmeplified by Macel Duchamp's urinal.

*let alone discussing art in the terms of 'divine' - bordering on self aggrandising obsession.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2015, 09:42:28 AM by spidermike »
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Diego Pigozzo

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #14 on: July 17, 2015, 09:53:18 AM »

Firstly, I think you missed the point of my comment - the picture is a work of art but as the person who took the picture I didn't create a work of art.
It is that sort of meaningless drivel that gives philosophy of any sort a bad name.
As it's meaningless for you it may very well be meaningful for others.


What about the 'artist' who does not care about 'success'. If such an artist considers he has reached a apotheosis of his 'art' who is anyone to tell him he is wrong - in which case 'connecting with the viewer' is irrelevant. And if he considers his work as 'art', then he is always in the 'divine act of art creation'* no matter what you or I think.  
Of course this all comes back to the position exmeplified by Macel Duchamp's urinal.

*let alone discussing art in the terms of 'divine' - bordering on self aggrandising obsession.

What about the artist who does care about success?
Or just the artist who does care about interacting with the viewers?
Again, if something has no value for someone that doesn't means it has no value whatsoever.
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luxborealis

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #15 on: July 17, 2015, 10:20:05 AM »

Is Art defined by what it does, or how it is made?

Luxborealis, I will note merely that your view of Art is perhaps 100 years out of date, and leave it at that.

Why 'art' is a word that people somehow feel they have a personal stake in defining is something of a mystery. My feelings and ideas about the word 'dog' have no bearing, after all, and yet I could bleat on about what I 'feel' Art to be and nobody would think it odd.


This notion is not a hundred years out of date - it's as alive today as ever. Just visit a gallery showing modern art. Many of us hate it but it's intentional and completely a product of the artist's mind.

Art is an ideal, few ever achieve. So, the rest of us who are trying to be artists make up all kinds of reasons to explain why what we are doing should be called art. We want it to be recognized as art, but really, it's not. It's artistic, but not art.

This doesn't lessen what we're doing. I'm still going out tomorrow to make more landscapes using photography as my medium of choice. It's what I love to do, but I've come to the realization that while I put much time, effort and creative and aesthetic thought and technique into what I do, my photographs are not creations of my mind, but  reasonable facsimiles of beautiful moments, not too difficult to repeat. (Alan, the physics of light through glass onto a sensor is predictable and repeatable - I'm sorry I wasn't clear on that.)

Art, like a Picasso work, cannot be repeated. Art is an original product of the creative mind. It can be reproduced and similar works can be made, but that's just copying an idea and a style, not creating. What I and most landscape photographers are doing is copying nature - we're really not creating anything new.

As photographers, we don't like to hear this because we've spent the last century trying to get photography recognized as art. Some of it is, as I pointed out in my post above, but, by far, most of it is not.

BTW - Thanks to Isaac for opening this can of worms. Isaac and I have battled over the years here on the forum, but his original post forced me to think about what I'm doing in relation to art and what exactly art is. As Stamper pointed out, the discussion is irrelevant, particularly because to most people, it doesn't really matter what art is.

For me, drilling down into this philosophical notion of art is helpful in creating context for the work I do. However,  if a paying customer wants to call what I do art, I'm not about to launch into a diatribe about why it's not. I'll just take the compliment in the context of what I believe art is and move on. Is that deceitful? Perhaps, but I would also like to sell a few photographs to support my habit. :)
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amolitor

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #16 on: July 17, 2015, 10:26:46 AM »

Just because the art you see happens to be the product of intentional labor, this does not imply that the definition of Art includes intentional labor.

Duchamp pretty much killed that definition dead.
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Arlen

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #17 on: July 17, 2015, 01:06:31 PM »

Terry, thank you for what you wrote in your original reply. Though your conclusions mostly follow from your definition of art--the most controversial and amorphous aspect of the whole question, I think--you make an articulate and cogent argument for your point of view. It's both thoughtful and thought provoking, which is always a good thing.



To answer your question - no, one cannot "accidentally" make art, not according to the definition of art I live by....


[Modified to save space]
« Last Edit: July 17, 2015, 02:37:06 PM by Arlen »
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Isaac

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #18 on: July 17, 2015, 01:50:47 PM »

Unless Rosenthal tripped and while he was falling inadvertently hit the shutter button, he did not accidentally take any picture.

'… [Rosenthal] confessed that its making was "largely accidental." … "I have often thought," he said a decade after making his famous photograph, "of the things that happened quite accidentally to give that picture its qualities."' p208


I think the actual question you intend on asking is…

No, it is not.

The only photographs I take accidentally are of my lens cap or my feet…

Do you control every aspect of what is included within the frame? Do you stage your photographs?

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MattBurt

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Re: Accidentally made a work of art?
« Reply #19 on: July 17, 2015, 03:20:51 PM »

I think a purposeful capture of the scene is certainly art. The product maybe mostly craft, but when a person is trying to take what they see and distill it, leaving out some things, being sure to include others, and arranging them in a visually appealing way, it's art to me. Purely documentary photography isn't but any interpretation by the photographer makes it have an element of art to it. The line between documentary and art is also a blurry one with some works like that flag shot falling close to that line.

When I got my art degree as a watercolorist I felt less this way. I guess I've softened and become more inclusive with my definition, especially when I feel like I'm making art when taking photos in the right circumstances.
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