Painting from Photos – What defines Art or the Artist? (4)
September 15, 2007
Alan wrote as comment on my last post:
“I think most people believe that photorealist? process is relatively new. Many people may not realize that as early as the fifteenth century, artists were using optical devices to help create their art work. The desire for realism and a close depiction of nature and its beauty enticed the Renaissance artists to use optical devices to give them the ability to reflect far away images onto flat surfaces to aid in painting, etc.
I’m somewhat torn on photopaintings as being art or not.
For that matter I’m not even sure if photography in the strictest sense is true art and that photographer’s themselves are true artist. Some photographic work may, yes, be termed art and artistic but really, a picture of a sunset, a flower, etc…….is that art?
I don’t know……….personally, much of my work, especially shot for commercial purposes, I don’t call it art.
These days, anyone with the camera is termed an artist but truly in the art world I’m not sure someone is called an “artist” just because they pick up a brush and throws paint on a canvas.
Would we call a monkey who picks up the brush and paints on canvas, an artist?
Or a camera for that matter. I would imagine a monkey could take a picture and some of it might be rather interesting,,,,,,,,,,,but no, not Art.
Yes, we put our personal spirit and passion into the work but are we truly creating…………….”
Alan, thank you so much for the comment.
I must admit that I had the same “uncomfortable” attitude before I started to learn more about photorealism. When you read my earlier posts about painting from photos you will see that I have changed my mind completely. This all started with a kind of unpleasant feeling I had towards my own work, somehow struggling for the “sense” behind this all, searching for some re-assurance within myself whether I was on the right track or not. And just like many other creative people I hate to be put in a drawer – be it personally or artwise.
There are many definitions for Art – none can claim to be the ultimate validation simply because it is subjective:
“Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas. Beyond this description, there is no general agreed-upon definition of art, since defining the boundaries of “art” is subjective, but the impetus for art is often called human creativity.” (from Wikipedia)
This at least answers one aspect of the discussion namely art has to be executed by humans not by animals although there exist opinions about animal intelligence being able to conduct communication – so why shouldn’t it be possible to talk about art executed by higher developed primates and other mammals? We know so little.
The discussion whether something is art or whether someone is an artist seems to have risen since the introduction of the industrial era i.e. with the 20th century. Before that there was no discussion about what art was and what not. Even the use of simple technical equipment such as the camera obscura, grids, ruler and other mechanical tools would never have been seen as adjustments to reality – on the contrary – as you said, Alan, the intent was to represent nature or reality as close as possible. So why do we sometimes consider the use of technical equipment today as a means for “cheating” and creating “fakes”? Where do we draw the line? And who defines what the line would be? Only because we possibly accelerate the whole process of creation and only because we do not constrain to classic techniques any more we do not create less art. Although sometimes acceleration goes at the expense of quality.
We are using multiple tools today to create visual art – pencil, brush, carving knife, turntables, camera, video, laserlight, all sorts of electrical tools – the list is long. You wouldn’t say that someone is not an artist only because he uses electrical devices instead of a regular carving knife – would you?
On the other hand everything that is produced through an automated process in multiple numbers would not be called art – right? It would be a commodity product, a household item. Yet the original design or image could have been a piece of art once. This applies f.e. to prints that can be found on mugs and other objects. Who would say that a bag with the print of the “Mona Lisa” is art? Probably no-one. But who would deny that the original image of the “Mona Lisa” is true art?
The problem arises when someone creates a one-of-A-kind bag with a handpainted image (meticulously copied or not) of the Mona Lisa, puts it in a frame or on a podium, makes it part of an installation or conceptual art or even casts it in resin or other material. Some would call it art, others crap. What now?
The same applies to photography. I don’t think there is a difference between taking the brush or taking the camera. In both cases you use a tool. Of course I wouldn’t call each photo of a flower a piece of art but in the pure sense it is: I have created an individual image of a flower with a tool. I have seen it with my eyes and I have reproduced what I have seen with my hands – i.e. I use a tool, the camera. And of course the same applies to you shooting commercials.
Can we call a photo “Art” only when there is emotion in it or a personal affiliation? What kind of emotion does count? What about photos that have been shot under weird circumstances such as war scenes, rape, torture, natural catastrophes? Clearly these kinds of photos have been called art and the creators are called artists. Whereas no-one would call the shots from paparazzis “art” – but why not? Why are photos done in a studio with all the fake filters, artificial lights and all sorts of tricks called art? Only because the photographers are famous?
What about paintings we call trite, the umpth painting of a sunflower – is it art because it is painted with a brush? If it is painted by your granddaughter at an age of 6 and exhibited at the school’s gallery – you would clearly define it as art – right? But would it be called art by someone else who is not affiliated with your granddaughter?
So why do you refrain from calling your commercials art? Only because you are doing this for money? This cannot be the reason because then there won’t be any artists in this world. Who can live from love, air and a warm handshake only? And haven’t the old masters not been paid as well? Da Vinci was paid, MichelAngelo was paid and thousands of others. Even my great-grandfather was paid because he was a painter.
Does art that is sold turn into a piece of non-art? Whether contemporary or not – is it the value that counts to make a painting into a piece of art? I don’t think this is the case either (yet sometimes I have the feeling I am wrong here!).
Getting back to the photorealists.
Photorealists paint the motif that has been shot with a camera before (normally). For the moment it is not important whether the photo has been taken by the same artist or not, nor is the technique – the point is, a photo has been transformed into a painting. This process is clearly an act of creation and therefore art – in the sense of something artificial that has been produced manually and not through an automated process.
The result may be trite or not – it is a piece of art by definition even if that definition is generally not agreed upon.
Painters of the abstract, non-objective, paint without clearly defining an image of an object – it could be patterns, textures, monochromes or simply colour blotches. How quick are we here to express our opinion of seeing “non-art” but only “throwing paint on a canvas”?
Check out the work of Gerhard Richter, said to be one of the most important artists in Germany, who lately created the new stained glass window in the cathedral in Köln. He used a computer program to create the window – the result was a composition of many different colour tiles without any specific order, a play with colour pixels. On photos the 113 m² large window looks like an extreme enlargement of a digital image, the single pixels are turned into huge quarters, composed out of 11500 pieces.The historical window had been destroyed in WWII and replaced by a simple, non-ornamental glass window that had always been considered as a stigma.
There is no doubt that Richter is an artist. He continuously avoids classification – his portfolio ranges from hyperrealism to abstract, painting to photography. One of my favourite, abstract paintings is Red,Blue,Yellow
Who would deny that this is a true piece of art although we cannot recognize any defined object but only similarities, patterns and textures.
But what if we look at paintings such as these: Colour Charts
Are these art? I am sure most people would clearly refuse this. I have my own difficulties accepting these as art – I admit – but that’s only subjective.
“Richter wasn’t interested in the purity of art. Idealism had disillusioned him from an early age. Instead he painted images without glory; images that rendered the ridiculous, ordinary; the tragic, ordinary; the beautiful, ordinary. Throughout his career Richter has shrunk from giving a psychological insight into his art, leaving his admirers and critics guessing and at times confused. According to him, his work forms from structures and ideas that surround him, nothing more profound than that.” (from his website, biography)
So what does all this prove?
Art is something so utterly subjective, emotional, that it clearly depends on the viewer, education and knowledge. Art can have many styles – none is better than the other. Art is made with classical tools or the modern inventions of our century – none can claim to be more worth than the other. Art can be created from new materials as well as found objects or recycled parts – none can be considered to be the truest art.
Art will always be a result of our spirit, our emotions, our convictions and beliefs – how much we put in it cannot be measured nor even made conscious – therefore it is impossible to define the benchmark when you start to create art. A piece of work you started as art might very well end up as rag in the sink and vice versa…