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Author Topic: Photography is to art what golf is to sport  (Read 51958 times)
Stuarte
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« on: August 05, 2007, 10:36:43 AM »
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Reflecting on the thread about the 101 cliches of photography, it strikes me that the serious pursuit of photography - as opposed to happy snapping - brings with it the risk of a certain high-mindedness, a certain hauteur of would-be auteurs.

And it occurs to me that a lot of the discussion of this ilk is predicated on the notion that serious photographers aspire to being serious artists or at least to creating serious art.

As far as I'm concerned, photography is to art what golf is to sport.  

Sure, golf is a sort of sport and it requires technical skill and practise. and the best golfers do things that less talented mortals can't do.  The best golfers are worthy stars and celebrities. But golf does not require the speed and athleticism and fitness that are required in tennis, or soccer, or hockey or skiing.  

I'm not saying that golf is not a sport, but I am saying that it is a much less demanding sport than other sports - after all, it's a sport that can be played by semi-invalids if they have enough money for a golf cart.

And I respectfully suggest, as a guy whose main "creative" expression is photography, that photography too is an art, but not on the same level as performing arts, nor on the same level as plastic arts that conjure up something out of formless raw materials.  The most inspiring photography is probably infused with artistic sensibility and insight, and it may well even trigger the sort of reflections that are the hallmark of great art.  

But let's be frank - it is art "lite".

Photography is a pleasurable pursuit for all who press the shutter.  It can become a voyage of exploration and discovery for those who practise is purposefully.  And it can yield impressive "artistic" results for the lucky few, but with much less talent and investment of time and effort than the classical music, dance et al.
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2007, 10:54:19 AM »
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I would agree with you, but not for the reasons you state. Both consume lots of money, can be very frustrating and generate little return except for the few.
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Rob C
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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2007, 11:41:56 AM »
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Stuhar - well articulated idea, and, strangely, rather too close for comfort to something that has been running around in the rear part of my own mind of late.

And this thought is simply that the confusion that surrounds the meaning or definition of the word art is that it is perhaps too wedded to particular expressions of endeavour. In effect, when people speak of art, they seem to be talking about a subject which can be pigeon-holed: painting, music, dance or even sculpture lie within the remit. Photography is rather newer as a medium and so is still having to go through its initiation rituals, even though there is no way it can be refused entry to the pantheon because, like all the other accepted arts, it depends for its validation on display of a visually or aurally pleasing manifestation of whatever it is or professes to be. For photography, as I said, itīs just a matter of time.

But that still avoids any definition of what art might be; my forbidden thought is this: perhaps there IS no definite meaning or semantically precise definition possible because the word itself is nothing more than a blanket description for things that display an ability to tickle the eye, ear or even the nose (try my wifeīs cooking!).

So, as for photography being or not being on a particular īlevelī of your own definition, such judgement  becomes no more than a personal preference for whichever art pleases you the most.

Neither can I quite get the reasoning behind your allusion to golf and its place in sporting heirarchy; the expenditure of explosive power is nothing but a particular division of athleticism - long distance runners may think differently about any such implied superiority of one type of athleticism over the other! For my part, all these sports, particularly football, should have been left behind with childhood and wind-up toys.  Golf has always semed to me to be particularly perverse: why choose the most inappropriate tool with which to achieve the objective: the placing of a ball within a hole? But there you are, there are those who think of it as sport as others imagine horse racing to be the sport of kings. Oh dear me, even sport has to have a pecking order!

Oh, high-mindedness: and why the hell not? Is there merit in mediocrity, then, other than in the crossword sense?

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: August 05, 2007, 11:45:39 AM by Rob C » Logged

Stuarte
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« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2007, 01:57:24 PM »
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Rob, of course the hierarchy is my own.  

Regarding sport, I think there is beauty and artistry in any movement that is executed with skill, creativity and grace.

High-mindedness in photography is okay until it undermines the fundamental delight in celebrating and sharing the gift of "second sight" that photography bestows.  That may be "second sight" in the sense of being able to seize a sight and see it again later.  And it may be "second sight" in the way that having a camera, and aspiring to explore the world with it, becomes an on-going process of re-learning how to see.

As for merit in mediocrity, I'm sure not even the best of my photos deserve to be regarded as mediocre - mediocre would be a real achievement for me!  Just as my ham-fisted fumbling with Bach is pretty much what you'd expect of a guy of 53 who took up the piano a couple of years ago.  But I stand a lot better chance of rising to mediocrity with a camera than I do with a piano - and a lot better chance of producing something that at least a couple of other people may enjoy.

But in both cases, the point for me is to engage with the disciplines and to enjoy the heightened awareness that comes from that process.  Not so long ago I commented to my piano teacher. "Let's be honest - who am I kidding? I could wear boxing gloves and it would sound pretty much the same."  And despite being an eminent recording and performing harpsichordist, her comment was "you're making good progress, and anyway it's the journey, isn't it?"
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Rob C
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« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2007, 03:40:48 PM »
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Stuhar

The journey! No, for me it darn well isnīt īítī! The journey is Photoshop; the journey is running out of seemingly irreplaceable ink for the  B9180; the journey is having little or no luck trying to get my hands on their first batch of Hahnemuhle in a land where Epson rules!
For me, where itīs at is the moment of clicking that shutter; the moment when the tranny is on the lightbox or the finished print is in my hands for the very first time.

Modesty regarding oneīs own pictures may suit one person but not another. When I was still earning a crust from this business  modesty was the kiss of death, the tool of self-destruction, the cancer that allowed the buyer to kick your ass and pay you peanuts!

I have no intention here of applying judgement to anotherīs oeuvre - particularly when I know nothing about it - but as far as your musical reference goes I have to say this: I canīt sing a note nor can I successfully whistle a tune. I can, however, tell when somebody else goes flat; I can also spend every waking day with music playing and be totally happy with that. I also think that it is my inability to be musical myself that has given me such a desire to surround my life with music and why I think so highly of the gift that some rare people have of just picking up an instrument and playing; of opening their mouths and producing sounds that make the hair on the back of my neck go rigid. With pleasure.

Yet, and yet... the journey, in the Kerouac sense, in the literal Route 66 sense of those two kids with the Stingray, yes, thatīs often better than arriving. In years gone past, before I had my heart fright, my wife and I drove from Mallorca to Scotland perhaps eight, nine or more times and I loved that journey through France much, much more than arriving back at the destination which I had escaped years before. I can understand why those young Rolling Stones wonīt give up the road. With their health and means, neither would I! It is life; it is affirmation that one really does exist beyond a tiny quotidian pool. Much like the internet, come to think about it.

Ciao - Rob C
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James Godman
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« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2007, 03:56:53 PM »
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Hey Stuhar-

I appreciate your thoughtful post.  My feeling is that Artists either declare themselves that or are given the title by others like critics etc.  A good approach in my opinion is to make the best pictures you possibly can and let the world decide what to make of them or categorize them.

Also, I respectfully disagree with your characterization of golf.  As one who participates in a considerable amount of sports, my experience has been that golf is the hardest one.  It takes incredible hand eye coordination and mental focus to be great (and I am not!).  Sure, most anyone can get their money's worth and take 150 strokes, but so too can most anyone kick a football around or swing a bat.

The golf analogy is poignant for me personally, because when I play, I'm really competing against myself.  Its a struggle to make all the muscles in my body move correctly to strike the ball and make it go where I want.  And when I make photographs or paint, I am competing with myself, my doubts, emotions, thoughts, and again its a struggle.  If it were not, it would be boring for me.

How's that for philosophical mumbo jumbo!
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Ray
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« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2007, 10:50:08 PM »
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The golf analogy is poignant for me personally, because when I play, I'm really competing against myself.  Its a struggle to make all the muscles in my body move correctly to strike the ball and make it go where I want.  And when I make photographs or paint, I am competing with myself, my doubts, emotions, thoughts, and again its a struggle.  If it were not, it would be boring for me.


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That's a good analogy, James. I feel pretty much the same way myself, except for the golf part. I have no desire to take up golf in my retirement. The struggle in expressing the original photographic concept with ink on paper, and the incentive to travel to get more photos, is sufficient for me.

Like Rob, I left sport behind when I grew up, yet I think there's a type of ballet going on in rugby and Aussie Rules which could be interesting for the photographer, though I have to admit I'd find a ballet of Swan Lake with all male dancers, with hairy legs, probably more interesting than the ballet of a football match   .

Such questions as, "Is photography art?" are perhaps the wrong questions. More pertinent might be, "Can photography be art?" or "Can photography be an art form?"

Is architecture art? Is gardening and growing flowers art? Is writing art? Is dancing art?

Such questions can only be answered in relation to a specific definition of art. Define what art is first, before attempting to answer the question, otherwise it's all waffle.

I'm not going to propose such a definition, but I think there's a distinction to be made between a skill that has practical benefits as it's main purpose and a skill that doesn't. The latter would tend to be considered as art.

For example, writing is a skill. Is writing art? If the answer is, yes, then all the above I've just written is art.

Instrumental music is probably the purest example of an art form because it's totally impractical. It appeals directly to the emotions but essentially has no meaning in the literal sense. It's affects the listeners' emotions in different ways, sometimes radically different ways. There's no standard of meaning, to a B flat 7th chord for example, that has practical benefits in communication. It's art.
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Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2007, 03:21:05 AM »
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Ray

Think again: music has great importance and power in almost any area where it can be heard. Take the movies: it sets mood, builds up tension or calms it down. Above all it has great commercial prospects and generates money, fashion, health and fitness establishments where the flab can be pretended to vanish to the rhythm of whatever they choose to play...

I believe it is an art, whether well practised or not; the difference is only whether the practitioner is an artist. Much like photography, in fact!

Is writing an art? Donīt be modest! Of course it is!

Ciao - Rob C
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Ray
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« Reply #8 on: August 06, 2007, 03:32:27 AM »
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Ray

Think again: music has great importance and power in almost any area where it can be heard. Take the movies: it sets mood, builds up tension or calms it down. Above all it has great commercial prospects and generates money, fashion, health and fitness establishments where the flab can be pretended to vanish to the rhythm of whatever they choose to play...

I believe it is an art, whether well practised or not; the difference is only whether the practitioner is an artist. Much like photography, in fact!

Ciao - Rob C
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Rob,
Did you misunderstand my post? I strongly implied music is an art. It is the quintessential art. The art sublime, because it appeals directly to the emotions.

It could be considered to be on a higher level that the art of writing or the so-called graphic arts because it has no other 'raison d'etre'. It's a totally impractical form of communication that has no other purpose than to express the emotions.
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Rob C
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« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2007, 04:10:24 AM »
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Rob,
Did you misunderstand my post? I strongly implied music is an art. It is the quintessential art. The art sublime, because it appeals directly to the emotions.

It could be considered to be on a higher level that the art of writing or the so-called graphic arts because it has no other 'raison d'etre'. It's a totally impractical form of communication that has no other purpose than to express the emotions.
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Ray

Quite possibly I did misunderstand to a degree; the trouble here is that I start to write something and then it turns out to be coffee time or something of that ilk and I have to conclude or face the justified wrath of she who has to be obeyed...

But seriously, Ray, how can you say that music, or any other art, for that matter, is a totally impractical form of communication? It is ubiquitous, it is communicating all the time whether we realise it or not. I believe that all art appeals to and communicates with the emotions. Whether it soothes you to sleep or gives you an erection, the appeal is to the same human peculiarity: emotion. Nīest ce pas?

Ciao - Rob

P.S. Here in my bit of Spain it is presently cloudy, hot and hellishly humid. The perspiration sticks to the T-shirt and one dreads the thought of getting out of the building and into the crowd. I have air-con (which was installed years ago when I thought it an idea to print again - having had several pro darkrooms before, I should have known better! Apart from the discomfort of having to convert my little office into darkroom mode each time, I was forced to use RC paper, which I hated, because of the water shortages which I couldnīt bring myself to make worse) but I seldom if ever switch it on: it makes the outer world even more difficult to handle and is not healthy at all. Idid a shoot in Singapore many years ago and everything there was air-conīd; when I got back to Spain I developed a cough that lasted about six or seven months. Lesson learned.
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Rob C
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« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2007, 04:15:02 AM »
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Moving sideways to the original premise, the cliche can also have great value: ask Messrs Getty and Corbis!

Ciao - Rob C
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Ray
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« Reply #11 on: August 06, 2007, 05:10:55 AM »
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But seriously, Ray, how can you say that music, or any other art, for that matter, is a totally impractical form of communication? It is ubiquitous, it is communicating all the time whether we realise it or not. I believe that all art appeals to and communicates with the emotions. Whether it soothes you to sleep or gives you an erection, the appeal is to the same human peculiarity: emotion. Nīest ce pas?

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We can answer that question, Rob, by asking what would happen to society if we banned all impractical activiities such as painting, dancing and music? Could it survive? Yes it could, but obviously it wouldn't be much fun.

But what would happen if we banned all purely practical activities such as building houses, infrastructure, manufacturing and farming. Could we survive? No we couldn't.

I think we have to say that art is icing on the cake.
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Rob C
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« Reply #12 on: August 06, 2007, 06:45:22 AM »
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We can answer that question, Rob, by asking what would happen to society if we banned all impractical activiities such as painting, dancing and music? Could it survive? Yes it could, but obviously it wouldn't be much fun.

But what would happen if we banned all purely practical activities such as building houses, infrastructure, manufacturing and farming. Could we survive? No we couldn't.

I think we have to say that art is icing on the cake.
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Ray - I canīt quite grasp how you classify those activities under impractical; however, if your intention is to say that they arenīt totally necessary to human life, then I think you are both right and wrong: on the one hand life might go on, but on the other, it might just atrophy. The more practical aspects of life that you quoted are, indeed, essential too; but I think that ītooī cannot be overlooked because without the social graces bit I can see civilisation slide irrevocably back into the swamp fom whence, Iīm told, it came. I donīt think civilization can go backwards too far and survive.

Caio - lunch calls!

Rob C
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Stuarte
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« Reply #13 on: August 06, 2007, 08:34:25 AM »
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Interesting to see that one of our number resides in Spain.

In the early 90s I attended a Spanish language school in Granada during my work vacations for three two week spells.  Through a friend of a friend I met a young local woman who, like me, was very much into flamenco.  She seriously got into flamenco dance shortly afterwards, moved to Holland and has made a name for herself there as a bailaora.

Anyway, in one of our many conversations we were talking about what makes life worth living, and she said something like, "Yo creo que es esencial vivir con arte" - The English translation would be "I believe it's essential to live with art" but from our conversation I understand her meaning of "arte" to be a blend of art+artistry+creativity+enthusiasm and a touch of the inspiration that the Spanish call "duende".    

Gradually that phrase - Vivir Con Arte - has grown in significance for me over the years, both as an explanation for the things where I invest my time, attention (and money) and as an aspiration.  I doubt I'll ever be what is generally recognised as an artist, but I have no doubt that I will increasingly get better at Vivir Con Arte in all that I do.
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Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: August 06, 2007, 02:35:16 PM »
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Stuhar

Itīs a funny thing, but living in a country other than oneīs own seems to be a fairly mixed bag of feelings. There are both highs and lows, as youīd expect, only the extremes seem more so. There is the constant feeling that one either came here too late or too early in life: too late to buy when things were supposed to have been much cheaper - too early to settle into retirement and all the mental baggage that brings.

Also, as a photographer, the reasons for coming were mainly work-related: it seemed cheaper to live here and fly models out for a week or twoīs shoot than to float an entire trip from the UK. This proved an illusion: I had to go back to Britain to get Kodachrome processed well (yes, they could, when they felt like it) after each shoot and all the good clients were there too, as was family with whom to flop and edit and design. It worked well for a while because I used to do exchanges with a client in the travel  business: flights in exchange for pics.

But nobody knew about that hideous monster lurking in the wings: PC. It destroyed my calendar work within a couple of years of my moving here, scaring clients out of their wits. A new breed of freak roamed Earth, preaching hatred of all that was better than the average, whether in respect of people, figures, education, breeding, the house you lived in or even the car you happened to drive. Dull was the new great and shoddy the new perfection. And the most amazing thing of all: the mothers won - for long enough to ruin most everything.

But, back to the southern European way of living with art: yes, it is a natural part of life here; folk festivals are not mocked and art is everywhere, much of it good and also much of it not - but they are unabashed and keep on trying! For a longish while the new prosperity brough about by tourism didnīt push the people into ostentation - Ford Fiestas were everywhere as were Fiat 127s; todayīs younger lot, however, have all the nascent vices of elsewhere: the ego tripping on Mercedes and BMW, the belief that you have to prove who you are, rather than just being comfortable in the knowledge you already have about yourself. Progress, somebody with a sense of irony once said. Perhaps it was only sarcasm.

Ciao , or hasta la vista, if it brings back fonder memories!

Rob C
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Nill Toulme
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« Reply #15 on: August 06, 2007, 03:22:28 PM »
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I don't play golf (or want to, as I think it would appeal to many of the darker aspects of my personality).  I do flyfish though, and I have observed many parallels between flyfishing and photography — or at least a great deal of my own photography, which is heavily weighted towards sports, but I think the parallels might apply equally to nature photography.

Nill
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Ray
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« Reply #16 on: August 06, 2007, 08:19:30 PM »
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Ray - I canīt quite grasp how you classify those activities under impractical; however, if your intention is to say that they arenīt totally necessary to human life, then I think you are both right and wrong: on the one hand life might go on, but on the other, it might just atrophy. The more practical aspects of life that you quoted are, indeed, essential too; but I think that ītooī cannot be overlooked because without the social graces bit I can see civilisation slide irrevocably back into the swamp fom whence, Iīm told, it came. I donīt think civilization can go backwards too far and survive.

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Rob,
If you broaden the definition of art, then you are right. We could not survive as a civilisation without it. However, we are now back to the problem of defining what we are talking about. The thread began with the suggestion that photography is not a 'proper' art form in the sense that golf is not a true sport.

I merely make the observation that the more highly prized, highly regarded and sometimes the more 'expensive' the work of art, the further it seems to be removed from any practical use for our life in the present.

As a result, photography is perhaps excluded from the exalted realms of the highest forms of art because of its undeniable practical uses in modern society, which tend to dominate. (Just a theory for discussion   ).

It's interesting that no-one really knows the purpose of those cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira. One theory is that some of them may simply be the graffiti of stone-age adolescents. Other theories, that those ancient beings, who lived before the birth of religion, painted purely for the entertainment and joy of it, and in doing so, gave themselves a history and the means of contemplating why we are here, which led on to the creation of myths and religion.

There is at least one tribe of people still living who have managed to survive for ages without any forms of art, myths or religion; the Piraha Indians of the Amazon. Apparently, they lead a very existential type of life without concerns for the past or the future; a true 'living in the present'.
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Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: August 07, 2007, 03:15:48 AM »
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Hi Ray

Yes, I think that we do have to broaded the concept of what is or is not art; in fact Stuharīs references to Spain really does illuminate just how narrow the northern worldīs definition of art might be seen as having become. I donīt think that the north sees it as part of everyday living whereas in the warmer world it most certainly does form a large factor in the total experience of living - from fashion to the graphics of the thing, itīs everywhere you care to look.

Perhaps the Romans do it best, managing to look totally cool about it at the same time!

Nill, you worry me about golf and your darker side: golf is just about putting a ball into a hole, is it not?

Ciao - Rob C
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Ray
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« Reply #18 on: August 07, 2007, 04:33:14 AM »
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Yes, I think that we do have to broaded the concept of what is or is not art; in fact Stuharīs references to Spain really does illuminate just how narrow the northern worldīs definition of art might be seen as having become. I donīt think that the north sees it as part of everyday living whereas in the warmer world it most certainly does form a large factor in the total experience of living - from fashion to the graphics of the thing, itīs everywhere you care to look.

Perhaps the Romans do it best, managing to look totally cool about it at the same time!
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Hi Rob,
I was amazed at the abundance of art just about everywhere in Italy. I'd like to revisit the country with a 1D MK3 and the attributes of Photoshop CS3 in mind.

I've never visited Spain. However, the most celebrated artist that Spain has produced, Pablo Picasso, was of the opinion, after seeing the cave paintings at Altamira, that "after Altamira, all is decadence".  You've been on a downward slide for the past 15,000 years in Spain, with regard to art   .
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Chris_T
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« Reply #19 on: August 07, 2007, 06:26:02 AM »
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It's interesting that no-one really knows the purpose of those cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira.
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The answer is quite simple: they had no cameras!
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