What Is Art
This essay consists of a series of short statements whose goal is to describe what I believe art is. These statements are summaries that briefly state specific points. Together these statements create a list of what I consider to be the most important aspects of art.
This list is not inclusive. Additional statements may be added at a later time. I may expand the statements in this essay in future essays.
What Is Art?
– Art is the representation of personal aesthetic concepts. In photography, this representation is visual. Therefore, photographic art is the visual representation of personal aesthetic concepts.
– Aesthetics is the set of principles that address the nature and appreciation of beauty. Aesthetics is also the branch of philosophy that deals with the principles of beauty and artistic taste.
– Creating photographic art is based on using this set of aesthetic principles in photographs. These aesthetic principles consist of the use of color, contrast, composition, format, the field of view, subject matter, facture, exposure, processing, manipulation, and more.
– Artistic taste is an individual choice. No one can tell you what art you like any more than they can tell which food you like. Your taste is yours and yours only.
– Art is not documentation. Art and documentation are two different things. Art is about transforming reality. Documentation is about recording reality faithfully. Documenting is making a copy of reality. Creating art is transforming reality into something else.
– Artists are not their work. The two are separate. An artist’s work is what they create and show to the world. Who an artist is, is personal and often remains private.
– An Artist’s self-esteem is internal, not external. It is generated by their knowledge of themselves and their belief in their abilities. It is not affected by external feedback and opinions about their work.
– Artists change. I am not who I was five years ago, and my work is different from what it was in the past. My art changes with me.
– The creation of art is a polarized activity. Viewing art does not leave people indifferent. People love it or hate it. Artists know they are creating art if their work does not leave people indifferent. They expect positive or negative reactions, and they consider such reactions normal.
– Artists are not critics. It is not possible to create art and critique our work at the same time. Similarly, it is not possible to enjoy the work of other artists and be critical of their work at the same time. It is best to enjoy creating art and enjoy looking at the work of other artists and leave the criticism for others. There are people whose job is to critique, and they do a very good job at it.
– An artist’s audience consists of people who love the artist’s work and enjoy looking at it. Critics are not part of an artist’s audience. The job of a critic is to criticize, not enjoy art.
– Artists have a real audience, not an incidental audience. A real audience consists of people you met solely because of your art. An incidental audience consists of people who you met for reasons unrelated to your art. An artist’s family is an incidental audience, not a real audience. So are friends, co-workers, and anyone else who you met for reasons other than your art.
– If you just started creating art, you most likely do not have a real audience yet. You will acquire one if you show your work.
– Creating art is not a bucket list. Creating art is a compulsion. Artists create art because they cannot help doing it.
– Every artist teaches art differently. This can get confusing if you study with many artists. The solution is to study with a single artist.
– Artists return to the same locations and depict the same subjects over and over again. They do so because they know they will not create their best work on their first visit or their first attempt. They also know that inspirational locations and subjects are places they want to experience time and over again.
– Art is not therapy. Creating art may make you feel good, but it will not cure illnesses.
– Creating a work of art is not an engineering process. Creating an artistic photograph of a window is not the same as making a physical window. A photograph of a window only needs to be aesthetically pleasing to the artist. A real window must be waterproof, airtight, open and close properly, be of a specific size, fits a wall opening, meets building codes and industry requirements, be pleasing to the buyer, and so on. The fact the window maker likes his window is not enough.
– Bad engineering results in products that do not work or are dangerous. Bad art results in artwork people do not like, but that does not hurt anyone physically.
– Do not apply scientific standards to art. Art is not a scientific experiment therefore, artistic endeavors do not need to be proven right or wrong the way scientific theories are tested. This means it is unnecessary to apply scientific testing to art. Art is art, and science is science. The two exist in different worlds. I understand some aspects of digital photography use scientific elements, for example, cameras, computers, software, and the like. However, this scientific content addresses gear, software, and consumables. It does not address artistic endeavors such as inspiration, personal vision, artistic taste, contrast, color palette, facture, and all the other artistic aspects of the medium.
- You do not need to be perfect or create ‘perfect’ work, whatever that may be, to be a good artist or a good person. Those who seek perfection do so because they want to be accepted, fit in, or belong to a group. Often this group is the one that promotes the leading approach to art. In the case of landscape photography, this group consists of the traditional landscape photography movement. As artists, we do not need to be accepted by a group that does not share our artistic beliefs. We need to follow our own tenets.
– Art is not repeatable. The same photograph hand-processed the same way two different times will not look exactly the same.
– Creating art is easier if you exaggerate, practice hyperbole, or go too far.
– Creating art means creating speculative work, not commissioned work. When requesting commissioned work, the buyer gives a list of requirements to the artist, and the artist gets paid if their work meets these requirements. When creating speculative work, there is no intended buyer. The artist decides what the work will consist of, and people buy it if they like it.
– In art, mistakes are called accidents. There are happy and unhappy accidents. There are good and bad accidents. There are accidents we want to fix and accidents we do not want to fix.
– Artistic processing creates more stylistic differences than artistic composition. If several photographers compose and photograph a location similarly, artistic processing is what will create differences between their photographs.
– Artists collect art. They collect because they love art. They collect because they know they cannot recreate the work of other artists. They collect because they do not share the same aesthetic concepts and vision as other artists and therefore do not see the world the way other artists see it.
– Artists use the vocabulary of art. The vocabulary of art includes artistic terms such as color palette, facture, black, white and grey points, composition, format and reformatting, high key and low key, sources of inspiration, contrast levels, saturation, hue and lightness, light quality, artistic development, genre, movement, style, and many more.
– Art is about quality, not quantity. This conflicts with the society in which we live because success is measured by quantifiable results. To be considered successful, our results have to be measurable. That is fine when you work in sales, or in production, or in the measurement of one thing or another. But it is a problem when you create art. How do you measure artistic results? What numbers do you use? Do you count how many pieces you created in a month, a year, or over your career? Do you count how many photographs you took in a year, or how many you consider keepers? Do you count how many projects you finished or how fast you completed these projects? Do you measure their size or scope, assuming that the larger the size or the scope, the higher they will rank in the evaluation of your results? Do you try to evaluate how effectively you expressed your vision?
– Art is divided in two parts: the creative arts and the decorative arts. Decorative arts are called applied arts, or arts appliqués, because they are applied to other trades, usually for decorative purposes and for the creation of practical objects. Decorative arts include furniture, silverware, ceramics, porcelain, and many other trades whose purpose is to create practical and decorative objects. The creative arts include painting, drawing, dance, sculpture, theater, music, architecture, and any other medium used to create items solely for aesthetic purposes. A work of art has no practical application. Its only purpose is to be beautiful.
– While Walt Whitman is correct in saying that only an auctioneer can equally and impartially admire all schools of art, it is also true that art can be appreciated even though it departs from our aesthetic preferences. A true artist is able to appreciate the work and the talent that went into the creation of a work of art even though they may not want to own this work or display it in their home.
– The more personal your artwork is, the more Avant Garde, cutting edge, daring, unique, or risky it is, and the smaller your audience will be. Conversely, the more commonplace, centrist, paradigm-abiding your artwork is, the larger your audience will be. However, whatever your style might be, art is not the venue you should use if you want a large audience. Even if your style is popular, your audience will be relatively small, especially since you have to share it with competitors and with other artists who also want to be successful. No one becomes an artist because they want to please a large audience. Those who become artists seek the fulfillment of a personal passion, not the desire to be followed by a large group of people.
– A good way to expand your knowledge of art is to look at the work of artists you are not familiar with on a weekly basis. Because there are 52 weeks in a year, you will rapidly expand your knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of art.
About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business, and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography, and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website at this link. Free samplers are available so you can see the quality of these books for yourself.
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Studying fine art photography with Alain and Natalie Briot
If you enjoyed this essay, you will enjoy attending a workshop with us. I lead workshops with my wife Natalie to the most photogenic locations in the US Southwest. Our workshops focus on the artistic aspects of photography. While we do teach technique, we do so for the purpose of creating artistic photographs. Our goal is to help you create photographs that you will be proud of and that will be unique to you. The locations we photograph include Navajoland, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, the Grand Canyon and many others. Our workshops listing is available at this link.