I don't quite understand. If all one can teach is simple mechanics, why study anyone's work? What possible benefit could it have?
I will simply not accept the idea that studying the work of other photographers is beneficial, yet a critique, from whomever it may come, is useless and irrational drivel. As I've said before, I'm a better photographer for the critiques I have received. Am I the lone exception to this concrete rule? Is it really that cut and dry? Did John Sexton, Mark Citret, Alan Ross or Ted Orland learn nothing from assisting Ansel Adams other than darkroom techniques and the zone system?
Chuck, I don't think anyone's saying a critique is "useless." Someone may be able to improve someone else's photograph with a bit of judicious cropping or a change in tone mapping. But does doing that make the someone else a better photographer? Possibly from a technical point of view, but I doubt it does from the standpoint of art. What you learn from that kind of critique is "rules." The second potter I talked about in my earlier post knew all the rules, and that made him a guy who could throw pots that were correct in every technical way. They sold quite well. In fact, he's still making his living with his pottery. But what he was turning out wasn't art. To understand the difference all you had to do was look at the other guy's pots.
What Rob and I both are saying is that to be an artist you simply must have the right genes, though, I'd add, I think it's a matter of degree. The same thing's true with music, mathematics, the ability to do computer programming, and a number of other things. I used to have a friend who was a concert pianist. She was a superb technician. But when she played Gershwin she simply couldn't interpret the music with the kind of emotional result as could, say, Oscar Levant. If you've ever listened to Levant do Gershwin you know that he was pretty sloppy. He sometimes missed notes, but the way he handled the music could bring tears to your eyes.
I'm not sure what Citret, Ross, Orland, Sexton learned from helping Ansel, but I do know that it wasn't how to produce fine art. As far as your doubt that studying the work of the masters is beneficial, I'll say what I said a couple months ago in a different thread: "Anyone who aspires to do fine art photography must
get his head around Looking In,
the catalog for Robert Frank's show at the Metropolitan. If you go through that book -- especially the "extended" edition with contact sheets -- and don't learn anything about photography as an art, you're not paying attention.