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Author Topic: Is it art? Wrong question?  (Read 29425 times)
Rob C
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« Reply #20 on: October 01, 2006, 01:55:53 PM »
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Tim certainly provoked engagement in dialogue in starting this thread! Interestingly enough the phrase "so what" seems to have gotten bypassed by our individual passions. So would I be wrong to infer that passion is a component of art?
I must admit I too have difficulty with babies as bumble bees or dogs as Little Red Riding Hood.  My photographic experience is less than many of the people who contribute here. Though I was passionate about B&W photography thoughout art school and several years beyond,  I only recently began shooting photographs again , after 20 years. Having made the transition from hard media painting to digital work out of commercial necessites, the return to photography in digital format meshed well with my current circumstances. I have always admired landscape photographers because I personally found it difficult to capture those elusive moments I admired with any degree of satisfaction.  I whole heartedly agree with Geoff about  Anselm Adams as being an example of a "centered" artist. I purchased an original print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico in 1972. I love the photo as much today as I did when I first saw it. That single print took me on an almost magical journey through the poetry of tonal variations possible in black and white photography.
I purchased only one other original photograph two decades later. This one would be more controversial: Man with Dog, by Joel Peter Witkin. I might be sticking my neck out here, but I feel he is also an extremely centered photographer, but considerably more difficult to approach subject wise.
In both cases, what I perceived as the skill of the photographer was an important component of my response. I personally am more engaged by work that appears to be skillfully executed. I might infer from this that for me art needs to be skillfully executed. But the degree to which that skillfullness is apparanent is a variable I cannot always quantify. Being a painter, I am more sentive to sublte nuances in this media. I know how hard it is (or not) to achieve certain qualities of brush stroke, certain nuances of shading etc. These perceptions evolve over time and may change dramatically. Alain Briot metioned this as a component of art for him.

I find myself smiling in agreement with several of Geoff's other statements. Once upon a time, I was one of those smug students brandishing her portfolio as a body of work. In defense I would add that art school is for learning and part of learning is testing the boundaries of what we learn. Hopefully we learn from our mistakes.
Art has always co-existed with a commercial component, for better or worse. The number of venues for visual expression has expanded phenomenally, as have the venues that exist in symbiosis to art. Ocassionally symbiotic becomes parasitic. The issue of ethics reaches deeply into all human interaction, of which art is only one variation. Sheldon raised the idea of knowing intention as an entrance to understanding. I don't completely believe this to be necessary in relation to discussing"What is Art", though it migh prove helpful in marginal instances. In discussions of ethics however it would seem to be essential.

Tim's original point was, I think, to question how our attention is engaged, and if we understand how,  to then effectively increase the depth of engagement so we might make our own work more meaningful for ourselves and others.
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Emma

'I might infer from this that for me art needs to be skillfully executed.'

With that there can surely be no contradiction. It is the basis of everything, the reason why the doodlings of an artist are just as much art as are his finished, painted productions. It is in the understanding and ability of the artist that the art is to be found. I doubt that Leonardo could have produced duff work in any medium; the ability to produce the goods on demand is a further measure of the artist, at least within a professional context. The 'art' of throwing paint at a blank canvas where that is to be the finished product does not, for me, constitute art, however pleasing a result such random acts might sometimes produce. The hand and mind of the artsist must both be engaged directly, not in a random act of gravity v. motion.

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: October 01, 2006, 01:57:08 PM by Rob C » Logged

emma_g
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« Reply #21 on: October 01, 2006, 06:34:59 PM »
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In an effort to explore Tim’s statements about engagement more fully, I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few days trying to understand how I personally am engaged specifically by what I view. The effort proved surprisingly difficult in terms of precisely verbalizing how and why something engaged me. I decide to try an experiment and downloaded 50+ images from various photographic forums. I simply collected them in sequence, without any conscious editing. Then I watched them as a slide show on my computer, taking note of my reactions.
The most direct method of initial engagement seemed to be one of connection through an association that I could easily access. This connective association could be either emotional or intellectual, based initially very strongly on personal taste (I like /I dislike). This first impression seemed to govern whether or not there would be an engagement of attention of any duration. It took more conscious effort to stay with an image I did not respond to positively on first view. I had to ask myself rather deliberately “Why?” didn’t I like it.
 The next internal phase I became conscious of was a state of critical analysis. I wanted to know more about some images. It seems to be during this stage that questions of skill, intention and purpose were explored. If I resolved any of these questions quickly as a negative response, I was ready to abandon the image. Again, I had to consciously stay with the image to explore it further. The strongest reason for abandoning an image at this point was if I felt manipulated or coerced by it in a formulaic way. Phrases like “Too Cute” or “Too Disgusting” came to mind. Even with a great deal of conscious effort, 90% of the time, I simply abandoned such images. The 10% remaining had some other attribute, such as technical accomplishment that held me a little longer.
I should probably clarify that my observation of “skill” encompassed more than technical prowess. Several technically perfect works left me cold. There seemed to be no intention directing the technique for any specific purpose, other than a display of facility. They reminded me of the exercises I had to do in school in classes like color theory or anatomy.
What surprised me was that 35 images held my attention passed the initial view in some way. I repeated the whole process of viewing and questioning, until I was down to only 6 images. The images were mixed in terms of subject, yet all were powerful at engaging my attention. They all contained a high degree of skill, but other elements too in equal proportion. Adjectives like drama, tension, movement, pathos, reverence: are the best I can do at verbalizing these elements. These few seemed like complete works, while the others were like short statements. My assumption was that a skilful photographer was totally engaged by the subject and actually managed to capture that engagement in the work.
I don’t claim such an exercise proves anything definitive. I found it quite enlightening however to question my own conclusions, and have decided it would be beneficial to occasionally re-evaluate what I’m doing and where my own work is going. Just because I’m walking with my eyes open doesn’t mean I see where I’m going.


Thanks Tim
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Rob C
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« Reply #22 on: October 02, 2006, 09:14:27 AM »
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In an effort to explore Tim’s statements about engagement more fully, I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few days trying to understand how I personally am engaged specifically by what I view. The effort proved surprisingly difficult in terms of precisely verbalizing how and why something engaged me. I decide to try an experiment and downloaded 50+ images from various photographic forums. I simply collected them in sequence, without any conscious editing. Then I watched them as a slide show on my computer, taking note of my reactions.
The most direct method of initial engagement seemed to be one of connection through an association that I could easily access. This connective association could be either emotional or intellectual, based initially very strongly on personal taste (I like /I dislike). This first impression seemed to govern whether or not there would be an engagement of attention of any duration. It took more conscious effort to stay with an image I did not respond to positively on first view. I had to ask myself rather deliberately “Why?” didn’t I like it.
 The next internal phase I became conscious of was a state of critical analysis. I wanted to know more about some images. It seems to be during this stage that questions of skill, intention and purpose were explored. If I resolved any of these questions quickly as a negative response, I was ready to abandon the image. Again, I had to consciously stay with the image to explore it further. The strongest reason for abandoning an image at this point was if I felt manipulated or coerced by it in a formulaic way. Phrases like “Too Cute” or “Too Disgusting” came to mind. Even with a great deal of conscious effort, 90% of the time, I simply abandoned such images. The 10% remaining had some other attribute, such as technical accomplishment that held me a little longer.
I should probably clarify that my observation of “skill” encompassed more than technical prowess. Several technically perfect works left me cold. There seemed to be no intention directing the technique for any specific purpose, other than a display of facility. They reminded me of the exercises I had to do in school in classes like color theory or anatomy.
What surprised me was that 35 images held my attention passed the initial view in some way. I repeated the whole process of viewing and questioning, until I was down to only 6 images. The images were mixed in terms of subject, yet all were powerful at engaging my attention. They all contained a high degree of skill, but other elements too in equal proportion. Adjectives like drama, tension, movement, pathos, reverence: are the best I can do at verbalizing these elements. These few seemed like complete works, while the others were like short statements. My assumption was that a skilful photographer was totally engaged by the subject and actually managed to capture that engagement in the work.
I don’t claim such an exercise proves anything definitive. I found it quite enlightening however to question my own conclusions, and have decided it would be beneficial to occasionally re-evaluate what I’m doing and where my own work is going. Just because I’m walking with my eyes open doesn’t mean I see where I’m going.
Thanks Tim
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Emma

An interesting experiment, but as per your own conclusions, inconclusive.

And that's perhaps where we came in, or at least perhaps that's the party many of us thought we were going to attend: any definition of what art might be seems to end up being shaped ever more by definitions of what it ain't!

I was taken with your thought that looking isn't the same as seeing, something which has annoyed me about certain aspects of my own photographic life. For example, if perhaps one too literal: much of my professional life was model-related where the girl or, at a stretch, the clothes were meant to be the object of the shoot. This worked well for years and I travelled a lot of the globe looking for and using locations to suit my pictures (always at a client's expense, I'm delighted to confirm); now, however, I have moved sideways as in crab and want to use landscapes/locations as subject without the model, for my own projects. But, what has haunted me everv since starting this, is that I can't do it very well. I find that I continue seeking out shapes that simply scream for the inclusion of a figure. How do you deal with that? Is it, as you say about yourself, looking sometimes without seeing, or is it something more sinister, more terminal, in that I might just not have what it takes to work that kind of genre? The closest I get to what I want is some interesting close-ups of textured walls, doorways etc. which has to be derivitive to say the least.

Quo vadis, Rob?

Take care - Rob C
« Last Edit: October 02, 2006, 04:00:13 PM by Rob C » Logged

emma_g
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« Reply #23 on: October 09, 2006, 04:12:04 AM »
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Rob C

I wasn’t certain if you were making rhetorical statements, or asking specific questions for feedback. Speaking from personal experience, I certainly can sympathize with the difficulty in shifting the focus of subject matter from an area you’ve explored to one you have not. The skills I’ve previously acquired can actually make that process more difficult initially because I expect too much from them. Painting has a different basis than photography in that you can often compose the painting as you choose. In commercial work, I’m usually restricted by a brief of some sort, but there is almost always at least a little freedom. It’s not possible to move mountains, trees etc. around before you take a photograph. It may be why compositing multiple images is so popular a method of engaging attention, both for photographers and clients. But the photographer is always free to emphasize one element over another to define his particular vision.
Whenever I get frustrated with my own work, I try to go back to working on exercises that break the problem I’m having into individual components to work through. Maybe just looking at composition or colour. Then devising strategies to bring what I already can do into service to explore what I can’t do.  I’ve spent the last five years sketching, photographing and analysing the quality of light so I could paint it better. I’m only just starting to feel like I understand it a little.
We could start a whole new thread about the terms literal and derivative. There seems to be a very thin line where either term can be applied positively or negatively. Ovid was an extremely popular poet in ancient Rome. Unless you study Greco-Roman classics your not likely to encounter any of his work. His poem, Pyramus and Thisbe is essentially a blueprint for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare even acknowledges the influence Ovid had on him in numerous of his plays. The derivation in this case becomes genuine inspiration. There is a quote by Picasso often circulated in art school: mediocre artists copy, great artists steal. To take from a source and make it your own is often the starting point for spectacular and unique work.
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Rob C
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« Reply #24 on: October 09, 2006, 03:57:08 PM »
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Rob C

I wasn’t certain if you were making rhetorical statements, or asking specific questions for feedback. Speaking from personal experience, I certainly can sympathize with the difficulty in shifting the focus of subject matter from an area you’ve explored to one you have not. The skills I’ve previously acquired can actually make that process more difficult initially because I expect too much from them. Painting has a different basis than photography in that you can often compose the painting as you choose. In commercial work, I’m usually restricted by a brief of some sort, but there is almost always at least a little freedom. It’s not possible to move mountains, trees etc. around before you take a photograph. It may be why compositing multiple images is so popular a method of engaging attention, both for photographers and clients. But the photographer is always free to emphasize one element over another to define his particular vision.
Whenever I get frustrated with my own work, I try to go back to working on exercises that break the problem I’m having into individual components to work through. Maybe just looking at composition or colour. Then devising strategies to bring what I already can do into service to explore what I can’t do.  I’ve spent the last five years sketching, photographing and analysing the quality of light so I could paint it better. I’m only just starting to feel like I understand it a little.
We could start a whole new thread about the terms literal and derivative. There seems to be a very thin line where either term can be applied positively or negatively. Ovid was an extremely popular poet in ancient Rome. Unless you study Greco-Roman classics your not likely to encounter any of his work. His poem, Pyramus and Thisbe is essentially a blueprint for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare even acknowledges the influence Ovid had on him in numerous of his plays. The derivation in this case becomes genuine inspiration. There is a quote by Picasso often circulated in art school: mediocre artists copy, great artists steal. To take from a source and make it your own is often the starting point for spectacular and unique work.
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Hey, Emma

Lovely to hear from you again and yes, the thoughts I spoke out loud were really looking for answers, not rhetorical at all!

I have a feeling that my problems are not, possibly, as recent as I might have believed. When I was in my late teens I came across a book, Lust for Life, which was a romanticised biography of Vincent Van Gogh. I had been interested in art in a general sense (at least, I did visit art galleries whenever I could) and I was really smitten with the idea of living the bohemian life, not that poor old Vince had much of one, come to think of it, but the sense of doing something that was so personal was very attractive to me.

Much of my school-life was spent moving from one country to another and when I came to the last school, I discovered that art was considered a very poor relation in the general scheme of things. In a nutshell: art went out the window as far as education was concerned and that, directly, made art school impossible to access. Anyway, I painted away at home and eventually realised that I was never going to have the talent to exist off that. So, photography entered my life, largely through the influence of an aunt's fashion magazines; she had Vogue and Harpers Bazaar lying around and I found them amazing. I'd been interested in photography much earlier, but hadn't thought of it as a job, but those magazines fired me up and I realised that maybe Van Gogh was a step too far but not so with photography.

In those days, mid to late 50s, Pop Photography used to put out annuals: Popular Photography Annual and also Popular Photography Color Annual. There I discovered Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter, Bert Stern (did you get to see his Jazz on a Summer's Day?), Sam Haskins and so many others that were to become giants in my eyes. There was not a lot like that in Britain, where I lived at the time, just tedious amateur photographic how-to weeklies and the one, worthy, Photography edited by Norman Hall. In fact, it was there that I had my very first published picture, sharing a page with Peter Sellers: he had Britt (if my memory serves) and I had another, equally stunning girl. It was one of those moments.

Anyway, from then on in it was model related photography or nothing. At least, that was what I wanted it to be, but it took a lot of work in industrial photography. learning how to print well and paying my dues before I was able to take that big leap forward and go freelance and follow the model route. So, as I wrote before, I'm now at the stage where I feel that economic reality precludes following the pulchritude and demands that I make something out of what God provides for free. And, of course, this little bit of self-analysis has answered my own question: I don't really want to make the change from girls to landcape/still-lifes of one form or another, it's being forced upon me by circumstance and that's the reason I'm not getting a whole lot out of it.  Catharsis, the internet solution.

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: October 09, 2006, 03:59:58 PM by Rob C » Logged

emma_g
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« Reply #25 on: October 12, 2006, 08:07:19 PM »
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Rob C
I must admit I enjoyed Lust For Life when I read it in my teens also. I also enjoyed the author's book on Michaelangelo, The Angony and The Ectasy. The title pretty much sums up life as an artist as I've experienced it thus far!
Just remember Michaelangelo lying for hours on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel for not even minimum wage, only a vague assurance of a better afterlife whenever it gets to you. His consolation if I remeber correctly was to paint the face of the pope onto one of the residents of hell.
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John Camp
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« Reply #26 on: October 15, 2006, 02:48:32 PM »
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Most would-be artists of any kind would do better to consider art a job, rather than a life-style; considering it a life-style just adds a lot of chromatic noise.  

Whatever art is, you can see it; and not only can you see it, you can develop taste by looking at it. If you page through a huge (western) art history book that covers everything, say, from Egyptian New Kingdom nature art to minimalism, you begin to see that some painters are simply better than others, even though their subject matter may be the same. Some just paint better. That's all very clear, when we look into the past, because we are not encumbered by currrent cultural noise. And 200 years from now, when people look at the 20th and early 21st century, I think it will be easy for them to pick out the good stuff from the bullshit, in both photography and painting. (And if you want to endow your great-grandchildren's education by buying art now, buy Bay Area figurative art or other cutting-edge California art done since 1950...)

But, just for discussion:

Annie Leibovitz made a famous photo of John Belushi standing by the highway. What will that photo mean 50 years from now, when nobody knows who John Belushi was, or what he meant to his generation? (How many people now would recognize and tremble at a photo of Oscar Wilde, of which there are many?)

When color field painters explore the "flatness" of the field, or when minimalist sculptors make a huge rusty wall out of a Cor-Ten steel sheet, what will that mean fifty years from now when virtually nobody, except few specialists, are aware of our current art controversies and thinking?

My own brief answers are 1) Nobody will care about the Belushi shot, because it's too specific, and at the same time, tells you nothing. It's opaque. You have to know about Belushi before you can care about the photo. On the other hand, with a shot like "Moonrise," you can read all kinds of things into it; and if those things change over time, so what? People will still read their own feelings into it, and it will continue as art. 2) Most (not all) twentieth century abstract art is simply too pure and too intellectual. When the passing intellectual currents are gone, nobody will even understand it, or will even understand why they should attempt to understand it. The exploration of flatness, for example, seems a rather limited goal compared, say, to the exploration of the sublime, or even the exploration of sex, or the exploration of landscape, or the exploration of light...  

JC
« Last Edit: October 15, 2006, 02:49:55 PM by John Camp » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #27 on: October 15, 2006, 04:01:03 PM »
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Rob C
I must admit I enjoyed Lust For Life when I read it in my teens also. I also enjoyed the author's book on Michaelangelo, The Angony and The Ectasy. The title pretty much sums up life as an artist as I've experienced it thus far!
Just remember Michaelangelo lying for hours on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel for not even minimum wage, only a vague assurance of a better afterlife whenever it gets to you. His consolation if I remeber correctly was to paint the face of the pope onto one of the residents of hell.
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Emma

You see? That's part of the reason I told you when I first read you that I 'engaged' with you. You speak my spiritual language even if you articulate it in tune with a different syntax; that's something all too rare for me to find, here, or anywhere much else, for that matter. Thank you.

Ciao - Rob C
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Rob C
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« Reply #28 on: October 15, 2006, 04:33:53 PM »
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Most would-be artists of any kind would do better to consider art a job, rather than a life-style; considering it a life-style just adds a lot of chromatic noise.   

Whatever art is, you can see it; and not only can you see it, you can develop taste by looking at it. If you page through a huge (western) art history book that covers everything, say, from Egyptian New Kingdom nature art to minimalism, you begin to see that some painters are simply better than others, even though their subject matter may be the same. Some just paint better. That's all very clear, when we look into the past, because we are not encumbered by currrent cultural noise. And 200 years from now, when people look at the 20th and early 21st century, I think it will be easy for them to pick out the good stuff from the bullshit, in both photography and painting. (And if you want to endow your great-grandchildren's education by buying art now, buy Bay Area figurative art or other cutting-edge California art done since 1950...)

But, just for discussion:

Annie Leibovitz made a famous photo of John Belushi standing by the highway. What will that photo mean 50 years from now, when nobody knows who John Belushi was, or what he meant to his generation? (How many people now would recognize and tremble at a photo of Oscar Wilde, of which there are many?)

When color field painters explore the "flatness" of the field, or when minimalist sculptors make a huge rusty wall out of a Cor-Ten steel sheet, what will that mean fifty years from now when virtually nobody, except few specialists, are aware of our current art controversies and thinking?

My own brief answers are 1) Nobody will care about the Belushi shot, because it's too specific, and at the same time, tells you nothing. It's opaque. You have to know about Belushi before you can care about the photo. On the other hand, with a shot like "Moonrise," you can read all kinds of things into it; and if those things change over time, so what? People will still read their own feelings into it, and it will continue as art. 2) Most (not all) twentieth century abstract art is simply too pure and too intellectual. When the passing intellectual currents are gone, nobody will even understand it, or will even understand why they should attempt to understand it. The exploration of flatness, for example, seems a rather limited goal compared, say, to the exploration of the sublime, or even the exploration of sex, or the exploration of landscape, or the exploration of light...  

JC
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John

I understand what you say, and, in principle, I can but agree with it; perhaps part of the reason  why I do agree with you is that I don't rate Miss L as being anything special. In fact, what the example you quote might come down to, is this: a picture by a photographer who is perhaps more famous for being famous than for her photography; a subject who falls, in my estimation, into an equally empty slot.

And that is the problem or, indeed, the reason why such photography exists: it services the needs, real or imaginary, of a media-besotted public. It is, almost by definition, temporary in its appeal.

But, paintings are often very different: take the Mona Lisa, for example, a girl called Lisa del Giocondo (born Gherardini) painted by our friend Leonardo. Arguably the most famous painting in the world it owes its fame to the continuity of acceptance accorded it by the art pundits perhaps as much as the fact that it was produced by a great craftsman.  So, perhaps photography as portraiture is doomed to second-class status for eternity...

Or is it? The jury has got to be out on that one - we are too early into proceedings to have arrived at any reliable verdict, but I have a feeling that the way it's going to come down is that the subjects will remain more famous than the photographers.

Will landscape photographers fare any better in the historical sense? Somehow, I doubt it. For my money, I have come to the conclusion that the best part of photography is not a lot to do with the genre, but simply the reality of being a photographer at a particular time in one's life. I was lucky in that I was at my zenith from the late 60s up to the mid-80s at a time when it meant something special - as someone once said, for a short while it was like being a rock star. It was, even if the money didn't exactly follow the musical example!

What fun.

Ciao - Rob C
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« Reply #29 on: October 15, 2006, 09:05:54 PM »
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Rob C
Your welcome. And thank you for the compliment of connecting to my words.

John Camp
Your comments allowed me to consider again some thoughts I’d put on hold for a while. I have always believed that my “job”, at its most fulfilling, became my lifestyle and ceased to be a job. The challenges involved in maintaining that fulfilment, I’ve regarded as challenges to my creativity equal to the challenges that arose in my specific individual works. Even in the most restrictive commercial situation, I have been able to find some element of self-fulfilment to focus on. When I truly couldn’t, I did not do the work. At its best, I believe my work to be an accurate (though not always literal) documentation of my evolving self, but skewed nonetheless by my personal vision of what that self is and what it could potentially be.
 You raise the subject of art history, which I think is inseparable from most discussions about art, though not as any true qualifier of a definition for art. All history has a skewed perspective. What survives as history usually serves the interests of the preservers of that history. Museums for instance have many interests in preserving cultural artefacts, one of which is entirely financial. When a financial consideration is foremost, it becomes hard to discard the value of an object over time, except through actual physical destruction. Museums do not periodically clean out the garbage, though they will trade works to balance their portfolios: i.e. Thomas Hovings controversial sale of a Van Gogh & a Rousseau to pay for a Velasquez.
Consider all the “art” produced by cultures lost to current history.  Rob C’s comment “ it owes its fame to the continuity of acceptance accorded it by the art pundits perhaps as much as the fact that it was produced by a great craftsman.” has an acute insight in it. If the Mona Lisa had been destroyed during WWII for instance, would it still be the most famous painting in the world?
My point is that any comparison used as a parameter for definition has value only within the framework of that particular comparison. Art is in a double bind here since we expect it to be both personal and universal in respect to its defining parameters. The best we seem to come up with is consensus with levels of validation that often overlap, but are not truly universal.
I find myself again returning to Tim’s original post, which at this moment I’m reinterpreting as a speculation for investigation of one of the parameters used commonly as a validation of art: the ability to engage. Most of us who function as “artists” are continually “defining art” for ourselves through our work, whatever the media. It can be extremely useful to explore our individual definitions through a focus on how we approach individually such issues as engagement. A bit like sharing our bag of tricks with each other. The idea of outside validation has great economic weight obviously, but it sometimes is only just that: economic validation. It does little to improve my craftsmanship outright, though the “freedom” it can generate might make improving an easier task.
What I like & admire in the successful techniques of others gives me a goal to strive for and a possible path to follow. What I regard as failures can help me stay on my path by providing an insight into what I’d choose to avoid. Constructive critiques and criticisms help me sort out my blind spots more easily. And without having a definitive solution, I can still choose to agree to disagree.
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