Is Photography Art?
by Jeffrey Sward
 
"Is Photography Art?" -- Explanation of the Question
 
Periodically the question is asked "Is Photography Art?" Usually the context if this question can be interpreted to mean "Is photography equal in stature to what has been traditionally viewed as fine art in museums, such as painting and sculpture?" Another variation of this question is the somewhat more general "What is Art?"
 
Short Answer
 
"It ain't nothing until I call it." - Charles B. Moran, National League baseball umpire, referring to the metaphysical existence of balls and strikes.
 
Explanation of Short Answer
 
For the metaphorically challenged, the short answer means that whether a nor a particular painting or sculpture or photograph is "art" is an arbitrary decision which often varies from context to context and from observer to observer. Stated alternatively, whether or not any particular painting, sculpture, or photograph is "art" is an arbitrary decision made either by masses or individuals within various contexts and hence the answer varies.
 
Alternatively, if it winds up in a museum someone thought it is art, regardless of whether it is painting, sculpture, photography, or a room full of sand.
 
Long Answer
 

Here are some applicable definitions of "art" from Messrs. Merriam and Webster:

  • Art is skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  • Art is the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects
  • "Art" means "Fine Art," which is art concerned primarily with the creation of beautiful objects
 
Quite clearly any group or any particular painting, sculpture, or photograph could certainly satisfy all of the above definitions. Some examples of painting, sculpture, or photography might not show any skill, creative imitation or aesthetic judgment, and hence might be considered as "not art" or "bad art." The last one hundred years have seen the rise of "conceptual art." In "conceptual art," the concept is either equally important or more important than the created object. "Conceptual art" leads to things like rooms full of sand or a cube of red plastic.
 
For the literally minded, "art" is something which satisfies any or all of the above definitions from Messrs. Merriam and Webster. For relativistic minded, "art" is a judgment which differs from viewer to viewer or context to context. For the cynic, "art" is an arbitrary decision may by the arbiters of public taste, such as critics or curators. All of the above interpretations are equally valid.
 
Summary
 
The cognoscenti may have inferred at this point that the premise of the questions "Is Photography Art?" and "What is Art?" is meaningless, the circumstantiation is pretentious, and the answer is irrelevant. Creators should concentrate on creating and consumers should concentrate on what appeals to them. People interested in this topic should instead concentrate on the final answers to the paradoxes of Zeno of Elea.
 

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