Yes, you're right Nick. But I think that the 'what is art' and 'but is it art' questions, while potentially philosophically interesting, don't tend to reach an end - at least, not one that is of much use to practitioners. By asking for criteria / examples of works that we might include, and criteria/ examples of what we might exclude from the category 'fine art photography', I thought we might move toward a more concrete understanding of what we mean by fine art photography. And then we'd be in a better position to decide whether or not we think something is art.
How about this, to stir up a hornets' nest...
Other conditions according to which we might exclude a photograph from the category 'fine art photography' as it's used on this site:
photographs that merely reiterate a formula that others have established;
photographs that are produced without the intention of being engaged as fine art;
photographs that are produced for purely commercial ends;
photographs that do not seek primarily to challenge or enrich some aspect of our experience as human beings;
photographs that do not engage (positively or negatively) some aspect of the traditions related to fine art;
photographs that do not call attention to themselves as photographs (ie, the medium of photography is of no importance to the status of the work).
Each of the above has a corollary that becomes a positive condition, according to which a photograph might become a work of art. Any individual photograph need not actively seek to meet all the positive conditions implied in order to be considered a work of art, but it cannot contain any of the negative conditions!
Any issues with the above? Any more negatives?
You have been working overtime!
I wish youīd numbered the examples of negative conditions, but letīs try to contribute to your line of thought.
Photographs that merely reiterate an already established formula. To use this would instantly exclude most of the AA clones that sell the American Dream of a fabulous west. This would apply to the b/w practitioners as well as the huge number of others doing the same job here in colour. You could extend that to all the Mexican pueblo shots too; the crowd has thinned to the last and the second-last man standing; to continue to name and shame would be too painful all round so I wonīt.
Photographs that are produced without the intention of being engaged as fine art. A little more difficult, because sometimes a lucky accident happens, yes, accident, and something creates itself. Spontaneous art, anyone?
Photographs that are produced for purely commercial ends. At a stroke, this would exclude my favourite photographer, Sarah Moon, whose commercial work was nothing if not art. I use the past tense, because she appears to have disappeared, if you see what I mean, and turned herself into some kind of hermit in that not a lot seems to be available to research. So no, by definition I canīt accept that as an exclusion.
Photographs that do not seek primarily to challenge or enrich some aspect of our experience as human beings. That would rule nearly all of my commercial work out, something I already found true when I started to scan and look at the chances of producing an art website to market the old material. Though it was produced mainly with myself having free rein, it still had a client in mind and was shot to suit his imagined taste. Alas, it isnīt where Iīd like to be now.
Even with commerce removed - if it ever can be when your hope is to sell it - I do not feel that photographs have to give a toss about anybodyīs experience as human beings, something I find a little pretentious, to say the least! Too close to curator-speak for comfort.
Photographs that do not engage (positively or negatively) some aspect of the traditions related to fine art. Thatīs difficult too: we have yet to establish what fine art might be! But yes, I think I understand your point, and I do feel that there should be some semblance to accepted or established format or motif. Thatīs why I can never accept Billingham or Parr; I even wonder how it came to pass that they have become household names, at least in households with interested photographers in them. Fame or notoriety?
Photographs that do not call attention to themselves as photographs (i.e. the medium of photography is of no importance to the status of the work). I canīt quite imagine how this could ever be the case: the better the photograph the more photographic it seems to be. Perhaps this is reference to work that falls into the winding-on-the-film exposures where all sense of accepted values is thrown out with gay abandon. In this case, I would dispute the image having any value at all, even under the previously mentioned chance picture. A crooked shot of a café table, a chairleg and a foot is just that: a crooked photograph. They are spurious art so perhaps, in that sense, become a form of art? But not for me.
Maybe the essence of art is the touch of the artist, something that is either there or is missing; by that token, not all that an artist produces is art, only that when the muse has laid her hand on his shoulder at the moment of conception. Works for me.