After many decades of observation and analysis (obviously including self-) I have to conclude that the visual message of Art, the search thereof, is bunk: thereís no such beast.
The quality of Art, however, is to be found in the execution; the value in the perception, in the very religious, political, societal and market forces that cause it to be considered Art.
For the artist thereís the outlet for, and expression of, some skills. For the independent viewer an endless puzzle of grading, according to the rules of some game never quite understood.
In an ideal world the artist is allowed carte blanche, freedom to create whatever turns him/her on. Clients may or may not be obligatory depending upon the status of the artistís financial resources. A positive to having clients is the vague (when not direct) discipline they might impose on the nature of the output Ė the artwork. They cause the creation of timescale, often an essential factor in making the artist do anything any time soon; artists are noted for being denizens of a world without temporal restrictions - of an elastic mindset, if you will. They can either beaver away furiously through the night, depriving themselves of sleep and ruining any family relationships they might have otherwise enjoyed or, just as likely, put everything off until a more auspicious moment drifts along, spending much time in the local pub discussing the pros and cons with others of similar bent or, as likely, just enjoying the drinking.
Whether that ideal world without restrictions has existed broadly, is the exception, or has even produced much of worth is debatable; there have certainly been gentleman artists before now, as gentleman photographers too (I intentionally mention the latter just in case they have been thought excluded from the general category of artist), but it seems to me that even they usually require the outlet of a magazine or gallery in order to motivate themselves into production. That they (gentlemen artists) are often as good at what they do as the less fortunate members of society is not in question. In fact, they sometimes have to fight even harder against the odds to get due recognition: Snowdon and Lichfield were both fine photographers, but I groaned at the number of times that I heard people put their work down for their birth into wealth (so much envy in this world!). I was well aware of Armstrong-Jones and his outstanding work before he met and married Margaret! Lichfield performed a remarkable trick in hanging on to the same calendar client for many, many years and producing memorable work more often than not. And that ainít easy, especially when dealing with the same company for so long that the problem of Ďwhat next?í raises its inevitable head.
But in all of this work, where any message?
As alluded to before, one might point to the work of the photojournalists, expecting to find it there, but is there really message? There might be courage, recklessness, and yes, even geometry, but message? Is photojournalism even an art or is it acute observation, which may or may not be the same things at all. And what about landscape painters and photographers? Can they create message or, as with the photojournalists, can they but capture what is already there or happening or about to happen, regardless of their presence? Few landscape artists can justly be held responsible for escalated violence and even deaths, but war photographers are a case apart: can their presence actually cause the events to occur? Are they making a situation happen, showing a deadly creativity in frightening situations? But are they saying anything?
There can be plenty of pretty, moments of madness and an excess of pity/exploitation (difficult to separate, at times) for humanity but that is not a message: itís become a theme, a genre. War junkies donít offer you message: they show you human nature and callousness; as do others, they show you the thing, not what you can or should think about it: that comes from your own ideas and interpretations of what you see before you. A corpse is a corpse is a corpse. Unless you know the corpse, when your views become personal.
Emotion and message: different things, in my opinion.