Oh boy. I’ve been putting this off, probably because it feels more like homework than our other Find Your Eye lessons do. I’m supposed to ponder and write about my own definition of “art,” consider whether I think photography is art, and whether I think of myself as an artist.
Of course, the first thing that comes into my mind is that old cliche, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” I think the reason it’s such a cliche is that for most people, it’s the truth. It’s a fact that I don’t know much about art. I’ve never studied art history or even had an art appreciation class. It’s also a fact that I’m quite opinionated about it, nonetheless. I do know what I like. So I suppose I must have a definition, or at least a concept, of what “art” is, but it’s difficult to put into words.
I believe art is an impulse deeply rooted in the human psyche. We bring art into our lives whenever we do something in a way that goes beyond merely meeting our needs for utility or survival. Humans crave beauty, and we also crave expression of our own creative spirit. When we style our hair, or put on lipstick, or plant flowers by the front door, isn’t that an expression of art? In that sense, our very lives are our canvases.
I recall vividly my first exposure to what I think of as real art. I was in my early 40’s. It was a traveling exhibition of the Armand Hammer collection, displayed at the local university where I lived, in a town without an art museum or galleries. Tickets were sold in advance and people waited in line patiently for hours to get in. I remember standing in front of a portrait of a man by Rembrandt, my vision blurred with tears, totally overwhelmed because it was so perfect, so old, so alive. I was in awe that a human being could paint something so exquisite, and that it remained so vivid hundreds of years after its subject had died and turned to dust. Of course, I was probably also awed simply by the fact that it was a REMBRANDT. I was not totally ignorant, after all.
So is something art because someone says so? Because it’s placed in a museum? What about a urinal, hung upside down and renamed “Fountain” by the artist? According to Wikipedia, “In December 2004, Duchamp’s Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals.” To me a urinal, no matter whether you hang it upside down or sideways or wear it on your head, is not art. But it was to Duchamp, and apparently to a lot of other people who know more than I do.
Is photography art? Most definitely. Of course, not all photographs are art, any more than all paintings are considered so. When it comes right down to it, art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And perhaps also in the eye of its creator.
The image below is one I took on a recent autumn walk. It was just a photo of a found object, as most of my photographic subjects are, but for some reason, it stuck in my mind. What if I give it a name that connotes some of the layers of metaphor that have been tickling my brain?
Now is it art?
Do I consider myself an artist? Yes, I do. This is a new discovery for me. I’m not a Rembrandt, nor an Ansel Adams. I’m not a professional artist. But I am an artist, nevertheless. Only, now I use a camera instead of a crayon.