If you have read me and my comments on others blogs, you may know my suspicion of discourses on art.  They may be interesting about the past, but for that artist (the maker) they constipate.  They inhibit.  (And please don’t read into this any suggestion that you should read the rest of my blog posts — and if you tell me you pay attention to my comments, well then I apologize.)

Discourses on art can be destructive.  Painters like Pollock were clearly destroyed by the box that they were placed in by critics' words.  Before Pollock died it was clear that he was moving back toward images.  So too was De Kooning.  De Kooning went forward but Pollock did not.  And then Pollock died.  Sigh. 

Phillip Guston reached a dead end for the same reason, but bravely fought his was back.  The critics pilloried him, but he kept going.  

Brice Marden tied himself into minimalist knots for almost 20 years.  And even now, I bet he would love to draw a large drawing of a nude or a tree.  

To the question at hand, “art photographs art?" my answer is, “who cares.”

I consider myself an artist - but only in the tradition or context of artist as maker.  My primary art is visual and 2 dimensional.  So I draw and paint.  I also take pictures.  My second art is music, but for this I am just the instrument, a bass-baritone voice in a choir.  

In both, my focus has been on learning to use my tools and then to use them.  I won’t bore you with the process, but I consider myself a master of paints.  With photography, I mastered black and white over 40 years ago, studying from 2 established photographers, Gary Winogrand and Arnold Newman.  I stopped taking pictures for 3 decades and only entered the digital world recently and on my own (so no master or even a teacher).  I now consider myself fully capable - and consider my work as able to stand on its own. 

But is it art?  

Again, who cares.

Thus verbiage like this from Susan Sontag:  “While a painting or a prose description can never be other than a narrowly selective interpretation, a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency.” Sends me running to the hills,  screaming.  

Such words are useless to the maker (artist as maker and craftsman, not god-magician) and to the reader, all these words do is distract from looking.  If you are a serious artist, you may need to pretend to listen to the critic but it is best if you don’t take it to heart.    

If you want to understand what is art, the best way to answer the question is to find a master and ask him or her what he likes.  (By the way, in art school, that is exactly how we learned from our masters - I would speak to Paul Resika about the painters he liked, and he would ask what I liked.  So to when I spoke to Arnold Newman about photography.  Newman loved Atget by the way.

a drawing by Paul Resika

A photograph by Arnold Newman

The single difference that photography has from other arts is that the making is simple, such that there is little difference between a picture that has the same place as a sketch, or another work that is a developed piece.  

Also, photographs tend to need captions.  Even paintings do, by the way.  

So here are the pictures.  Or as Neil Slavin (my basic photography teacher) would say - the pitchas.  

OH ... perhaps the artist used this blog as a pretext to show some new work.  How cunning!

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Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 8, 2016 at 6:26am

Great pics, they capture the moment... as for the artistry, that's in the eye of the beholder.  R&L ;-)

Comment by koshersalaami on October 8, 2016 at 6:36am

I like your work.

I think "Is it art?" is the wrong question. I'd ask:

Is it good?   which is sort of "Do I like it?" with the assumption of some standard as to why.

Some media are harder to master than others. With some media, you can have happy accidents without being skilled. In some media, like music, representative painting/drawing, representative sculpting, you can't. 

This photo was taken this morning with indirect outdoor light. The colors could be more vivid in other light. 

We were sent these several months ago and had them framed recently. We like them, but that's only part of why they're on the wall. They were sent to us by someone we know who frequently volunteers (and has for years) at Camp Jabberwocky, otherwise known as Martha's Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp. She was responsible for our son, J, going there. They were in a file and had been there for a few years. They were painted by J. I have no idea of the mechanics involved. I'd assume a brush was tied to his arm, probably his left arm because I think he had more control over it than his right. I don't know if he selected the colors for the brush to be dipped in. Probably. J was opinionated and not what I'd call passive. I have no idea how he or his arm was positioned relative to the paper. What I am sure of is that he did not have sufficient control to have done this with any intentional precision. 

Is it art? As you put it, who cares? People could go crazy with ambiguity on questions like this. Is it functionally different from someone who takes a photo and finds that something unexpected happened in the frame? 

Comment by Terry McKenna on October 8, 2016 at 6:37am

True, but there is an aspect of my reasoning which replaces a definition of art, with a "list" - my list is the list of pictures i present, but of my own and others.  and one way to define a word or a concept is by listing.  lists are easier and more correct (a definition can miss including member of the set). 

Comment by koshersalaami on October 8, 2016 at 6:55am

Lists are reality. The definition in this case is an approximation of reality. 

An analogy: It's like the difference between the economy and any given economic theory or, if you like, between the weather and weather models. We try to get our theory as close to reality as we can but reality is a complex thing. 

This is very similar to an IQ test function. On IQ tests, there are pictures and one has to figure out patterns, either what is similar about a series of pictures (so you can figure out which picture doesn't fit) or a sequence of events somehow represented in those pictures that you have to figure out so you can say which picture would be next in the sequence.

Comment by Terry McKenna on October 8, 2016 at 6:56am

Thanks to all for reading. 

Comment by Rosigami on October 8, 2016 at 8:32am

The artist/critic relationship can be as destructive as any, I guess. It must be difficult to move forward when you have influential voices telling you which path to take, especially after tasting success. Los of artists get caught in that. They want to sell paintings...
I don't have that problem as an artist, maybe because I haven't had the kind of success that might lead to that. Plus while I appreciate the opinions and comments of those to whom I show my work (here, for instance) I have no reason to do anything other than whatever occurs to me might be interesting to try. 

I did enjoy seeing all the pieces you posted here. The most compelling of the other artists' work was, for me, the portrait of Picasso. 99% sure that's who it is. I liked the composition, the play of light and dark, how his hand is actively affecting his face, and most of all his eyes and the expression on his face. A moment has been captured and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to see it. 

Terry, of your photographs, the one I was most attracted to is the back view of the marching band. It reads to me like a human representation of a line of sheet music, punctuated by the purple fluff on the hats, the balloons and and the big brass tubas, and I find it very charming. 

@kosh: How absolutely wonderful that you have those two paintings created by your son! 

Comment by Terry McKenna on October 8, 2016 at 8:43am

Thanks R.  It is Picasso, Arnold Newman did portraits of the famous.  Still was a wonderful guy.  Re my photograph of the band - just took it, so meaning is an afterthought.

Comment by Alysa Salzberg on October 15, 2016 at 4:25pm

Haha.  I love this clever way to show off your (very nice) work.  As an extremely amateur photographer, your question is one that's come to mind quite often.  Not when I consider my own photos, which aren't intended to be artistic. But when I think about the nature of photography itself. Some photographers approach it almost scientifically, with expensive equipment and/or extensive photo editing. In a way, maybe that can be art, the same way a painter or sculptor has to combine physical techniques and materials with passion and ideas.  

But what happens with photographers like me (I think, you could say, the majority of photographers today), who are mostly interested in capturing moments, smiles - basically, a term I learned recently is "vernacular photography"? I don't consider my photos to be art - although maybe, just maybe occasionally they may be a bit artful.  Maybe I found an especially funny way to get loved ones to pose, or a setting that contrasts with the subject. But overall, I just click and try to capture a moment. I feel like it's sort of spiritual, in a way, maybe showing the best moments of life, in a good light.  But I don't consider it art, especially because most of my photos aren't particularly well-framed, often feature cluttered backgrounds (often in spite of myself), etc.

Thanks for giving me lots to ponder here.  

Comment by Terry McKenna on October 16, 2016 at 4:14pm

Alysa - actually, I really do want to pursue the idea of what is art.  But to that end, I remain skeptical of explanations that sound logical but don't acknowledge the war art refuses to bend to rules.  That is, the minute a rule is proposed, examples show up to violate it.  

Comment by Zanelle on October 16, 2016 at 4:27pm

I always thought Art was about learning the rules and then breaking them to suit yourself.  Maybe life is like that too.  

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