Sea Blue Lens

Don’t Know Much About Art…


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 recentย  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.

19 thoughts on “Don’t Know Much About Art…

  1. I have to agree – a urinal will always be a urinal.

    I like your thought that we all crave beauty and “the expression of our own creative spirit”. Perhaps it is that expression that is art, no matter its form.

    And of course, a title does help ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Brenda, it’s a funny thing about titles. I find that my response to my own photos is different once I give them a name. Perhaps it’s because I have to think about what the image means to me in order to name it.

  2. Great word Leon. Love the apple shot, Fallen, and who knows what metaphor that conjurs up. I totally agree with your thoughts, though a visual image has never awed me the way the Rembrant did you. Maybe later. You made me laugh with your urinal thoughts. People make all kinds of weird stuff into art. I have to wonder if there is any great emotion attached to that. I find my best images seem to happen when something inside is moved. (Don’t want to go to far with that comment near the urinal).
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Susan, you are too funny. Thanks for your comments. I agree with you — my best images also seem to happen when something about the subject moves me. For me, if I don’t feel something, whether it’s curiosity, wonder, admiration, fascination, sometimes even revulsion…then I don’t see the point of taking the picture.

  3. “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.”

    I love that statement! It brings to mind that we are all artists, all of us, but some of us won’t call ourselves that…yet.

    • I think all of us are artists at something. (Didn’t you give some lovely examples of that?) But we often don’t recognize it, because it seems like such an easy, natural part of us that we don’t see it as anything special. We see others’ gifts, but not our own.

  4. I can remember my mother saying, “I just want to be in a pretty place.” I wonder if we always crave beauty or if it is something we notice and want more as we grow older and wiser. I am so glad that you recognize yourself as an artist. I believe that we are all creative people and that we need to be proud of the talents that we possess. I love your picture and the title that goes with it.

    • Ginny, I think that craving for beauty is probably always there, but perhaps becomes more acute as we grow older, especially if we feel it lacking in our life. Thank you for your encouraging comments.

  5. You’ve done such a great job a expressing your feelings about art. I agree with you art has to be felt, not just seen. I think I’m finally beginning to understand that we don’t have to be professionals to be artists. I love both of your photos; the first one, such a treasure, and the send is beautiful; rich fall colors!

  6. I think you just redefined the way I am going to live from now on – like my life is a canvas! That gives so much more meaning to the boring things like putting on makeup and buying annuals.

  7. Wow, JJ, I think that’s the coolest comment I’ve ever received! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. yep i agree a loo no matter where it is is a loo!!! I to think photography is art and i love your found object.

  9. Oh, I missed this one if you linked it into class! I just happened to come by your blog and see it, so glad I didn’t miss it. I love your exploration of the topic, you get at the fact that art is so personal. It’s not about education or history, it’s about a feeling. You know what you like and what you don’t. That’s the way art works. I’m so glad that you are seeing yourself as an artist, and your photography as art. Great images to accompany this exploration! I think giving our images a name makes a difference. It sets the image apart, makes is special. Nothing special about “IMG_7956,” but “Fallen” means something more.

    • Kat, I did link in, but I’m glad you found it however you got here! I really appreciate your comments and encouragement. I’m so grateful for all I’m learning through these classes.

  10. I’m so proud of you! I think art is anything that makes you think and feel at the same time, which is why food can be an art form and clothing can be an art form (in addition to the obvious paint and sculptural mediums), and why, as Brenda so precisely stated, a urinal will always be a urinal.


  11. Very well put Lee and I couldn’t agree more!!

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