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Author Topic: What is 'fine art photography'?  (Read 145901 times)
Rob C
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« Reply #20 on: June 16, 2008, 04:30:35 AM »
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Having had further thoughts on the thorny issue of photography being or not being an art, perhaps the truth lies in the fact that it is many things (photography) which are different if not actually in conflict with one another.

I imagine that when used to make decorative pieces of whatever type - the operative sense being decoration - then it can be classified as another of the decorative arts such as painting or drawing, for example; when use in industry or research, possibly the same thing in many cases, then it might be thought of as a branch of science and in the case of news photography, either as propaganda or information, always difficult to tell apart.

So I guess it can be all things to all men.

Rob C
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« Reply #21 on: June 16, 2008, 06:26:41 AM »
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Having had further thoughts on the thorny issue of photography being or not being an art, perhaps the truth lies in the fact that it is many things (photography) which are different if not actually in conflict with one another.

I imagine that when used to make decorative pieces of whatever type - the operative sense being decoration - then it can be classified as another of the decorative arts such as painting or drawing, for example; when use in industry or research, possibly the same thing in many cases, then it might be thought of as a branch of science and in the case of news photography, either as propaganda or information, always difficult to tell apart.

So I guess it can be all things to all men.

Rob C
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Photography is art if the photograph is taken by an artist. Let's worry about what makes some person an artist since no medium is intrinsically 'art'.
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Rob C
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« Reply #22 on: June 17, 2008, 04:57:12 AM »
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Photography is art if the photograph is taken by an artist. Let's worry about what makes some person an artist since no medium is intrinsically 'art'.
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Nick

That would be a good, if simplistic definition except for one thing: I have a friend who is a successful artist (prizes from various bodies at art school; further awards from the commercial world) who both paints and photographs, the latter not just as aide memoires for his paintings but as final works in themselves. I asked him his definition on the subject some time ago, and he replied that he considered some of his output - in both genres - art and some not; it depended on how he felt it had worked out.

So there you are, even a professional artist has no clear-cut way of defining the word other than by personal opinion of what seemed to have ticked the box or not!

Rob C
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Farkled
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« Reply #23 on: June 18, 2008, 01:01:18 AM »
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At the moment, fine art photography seems to exist only in the form of a print.  It seems to me that among the many conditions and considerations thus far discussed as to what constitutes "fine art" we have missed the exchange of money.  Can it be said to be art (fine or otherwise) until it is purchased?

A second question:  Is a print the ultimate and only expression of "fine art" photography?  In the immediate or near term future?
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kikashi
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« Reply #24 on: June 18, 2008, 03:09:04 AM »
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"The term 'fine' does not in any way reflect the quality of the work, which is of course highly subjective. It comes from Aristotle's concept of Final Cause i.e. the purpose or end point of the work. In Latin, Fine means 'end' (In fine – at the end), and so in Fine Art the work is an end in itself, its very existence is its purpose."[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=197139\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
Sounds like sophistry to me. In your article, you assert, without more, that the derivation is true.

Do you have any authority for the proposition that this ordinary English word bears a different meaning in this context to that which it bears in any (every?) other context in which it is used?

Fine wine? Fine dining?

Jeremy
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ChrisS
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« Reply #25 on: June 18, 2008, 06:48:15 AM »
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Sounds like sophistry to me. In your article, you assert, without more, that the derivation is true.

Do you have any authority for the proposition that this ordinary English word bears a different meaning in this context to that which it bears in any (every?) other context in which it is used?

Fine wine? Fine dining?

Jeremy
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I don't know how good it is, but the 'Online Etymology Dictionary' has

[a href=\"http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fine]http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fine[/url]

How relevant that definition is to application of the term in the English language in the context we're discussing, I don't know. Beaux / fine? But I don't think there are many 'ordinary' English words - by which I mean, they tend to have histories - many crossing languages - which involve adaptations in their meanings.
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kikashi
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« Reply #26 on: June 19, 2008, 02:37:39 AM »
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I don't know how good it is, but the 'Online Etymology Dictionary' has

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fine

How relevant that definition is to application of the term in the English language in the context we're discussing, I don't know. Beaux / fine? But I don't think there are many 'ordinary' English words - by which I mean, they tend to have histories - many crossing languages - which involve adaptations in their meanings.
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I wouldn't waste time quibbling about etymology. "fine" may well be (probably is) derived from the same Latin root as finale, finally and similar words in other languages (such as fin in French).

The giant and unjustified leap was from that derivation to a meaning for the word both unique to this particular context and substantially different from that which it bears in other contexts. The first definition at the site you mention, "perfected, of highest quality" seems to me perfectly adequate.

Jeremy
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ChrisS
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« Reply #27 on: June 19, 2008, 01:17:24 PM »
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I wouldn't waste time quibbling about etymology. "fine" may well be (probably is) derived from the same Latin root as finale, finally and similar words in other languages (such as fin in French).

The giant and unjustified leap was from that derivation to a meaning for the word both unique to this particular context and substantially different from that which it bears in other contexts. The first definition at the site you mention, "perfected, of highest quality" seems to me perfectly adequate.

Jeremy
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Yes, quibbling about etymology sounds like a terrible waste of time. I hope never to do it. Awful. But taking an etymology into account might not be a waste of time.

I don't know that the derivation Nick suggests is justified, but I also don't know that simply saying '"perfected, of highest quality" seems to me perfectly adequate' cuts much mustard, either!
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kikashi
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« Reply #28 on: June 20, 2008, 02:48:11 AM »
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Yes, quibbling about etymology sounds like a terrible waste of time. I hope never to do it. Awful. But taking an etymology into account might not be a waste of time.

I don't know that the derivation Nick suggests is justified, but I also don't know that simply saying '"perfected, of highest quality" seems to me perfectly adequate' cuts much mustard, either!
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The reason the definition I quote is valid is that it is in concordance with the way in which the word is used everywhere else. The reason Nick's definition isn't valid is that it is unique.

Simple.

Jeremy
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ChrisS
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« Reply #29 on: June 20, 2008, 03:42:00 AM »
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OK, let's take the definition of 'fine' that Jeremy thinks to be perfectly adequate - "perfected, of highest quality" - and use that to define 'fine art'. We then might offer the term 'perfected, of the highest quality art' instead of 'fine art'.

According to the broader account of fine art that I've suggested earlier in this thread - including a wide range of ambitions and outcomes - such insistence on perfection and quality doesn't match up to an awful lot of what's generally recognised as important fine art done since the early 20th century. The definition brings us back pretty close to the terms Alain was using to describe fine art photography, but is in many ways quite removed from fine art as it's spoken of in the broader art world.

Can 'fine art photography' as the term's generally used on this site be extended to include more than that? To use an example I used earlier, could a snapshot printed on photocopy paper in a low quality printer (uncalibrated - imagine!) ever be considered fine art photography as the term's used on this site?
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Rob C
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« Reply #30 on: June 20, 2008, 04:34:33 AM »
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OK, let's take the definition of 'fine' that Jeremy thinks to be perfectly adequate - "perfected, of highest quality" - and use that to define 'fine art'. We then might offer the term 'perfected, of the highest quality art' instead of 'fine art'.

According to the broader account of fine art that I've suggested earlier in this thread - including a wide range of ambitions and outcomes - such insistence on perfection and quality doesn't match up to an awful lot of what's generally recognised as important fine art done since the early 20th century. The definition brings us back pretty close to the terms Alain was using to describe fine art photography, but is in many ways quite removed from fine art as it's spoken of in the broader art world.

Can 'fine art photography' as the term's generally used on this site be extended to include more than that? To use an example I used earlier, could a snapshot printed on photocopy paper in a low quality printer (uncalibrated - imagine!) ever be considered fine art photography as the term's used on this site?
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But thatīs the trouble, Chris: we canīt get a single definition of the term on this site! Each writer on this site has a different interpretation of it which, basically, is where we all came in.

Come to think of it, I have a gut feeling that so-called artists are the wrong people to consult. I think that we might well get a more true definition by consulting the great unwashed out there: remember the pile of bricks at the Tate - ten thousand quidīs worth of them - I donīt think a single member of the public would have considered them a work of art but the established order of the art world leaped upon them as the latest thing, yet another new medium to raise the number of pieces of rubbish with which to fill expensive corporate foyers.

I see exactly the same thing when I note the huge photographic prints of bleak apartment buildings that are suddenly transformed from mere industrial record shots into art. Just because somebody said so. Perhaps itīs just a German thing...

Rob C
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ChrisS
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« Reply #31 on: June 20, 2008, 10:39:28 AM »
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I think that you're right, Rob C - asking artists what art is isn't necessarily the best way to go. But I also don't know that the general public (by which I suppose we mean something like, the majority of people who don't have specialist training in fine art) have got a good answer, either. (Would we consult a non-specialist public if we wanted a definition of the term 'neurology'? It probably wouldn't be our first choice.)

As far as I can tell, there's no clear, generally agreed definition of 'fine art'. What there is, is a lot of  discussion about what it is. In fact, you could say that that's one of the defining characteristics of fine art - that it repeatedly raises the question of what art is. Art can raise lots of other questions, too, but that question keeps cropping up. And it crops up not just among artists, but among writers, critics, curators, dealers, theorists and historians too. As a result of the arguments that take place, areas of consensus develop - but they continue to be contested. Thus, we could say that art's a pretty unstable thing, and not just one thing.

I think a way to proceed is suggested in one of your earlier comments about the way photography can have different roles in different contexts, and by the example of the same photograph appearing in different contexts (fridge door, gallery wall etc.). The question stops being 'what is fine art photography' and becomes 'under what circumstances might a photograph become fine art'? The answer then will be primarily concerned with context - possibly a combination of intention, location, and reception. Is the photograph intended to be engaged as a work of fine art? Is it presented in a form that fine art is or could be presented? Is it received, treated and possibly exchanged as a work of fine art?

This last position leaves things very open still, but I think it's the way the art world works. The greater the authority of all three constituents - by which I mean, the more readily they are legitimised in the current art world - the clearer the status of the photograph as a work of art.

In short, the art world (artists, curators, galleries, critics, collectors and so on) decides what is important art. And its decisions can be underwritten by all kinds of motives, some of which are explicit, some not; some justified, some not. What we can do, is to continue to ask on what grounds such decisions are justified.

Well, that's the way it looks to me.
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Nick Rains
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« Reply #32 on: June 20, 2008, 07:22:51 PM »
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The reason Nick's definition isn't valid is that it is unique.

Simple.

Jeremy
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Whether you think it valid or not, the definition is certainly not unique. 60 secs research revealed the meaning of the term 'fine' in an art context.

The point you are missing is that it's not do do with quality of craft - which is the more common usage of the word fine - but more the purity of the concept and the fact that there is no utility to the work. It is what it is; what it is for is not relevant, the work is an end in itself and thus fine means 'finished' (L. finis) as opposed to 'good'.

Someone raised the etymology of the word fine - it is important here. Finederived from French means 'good or finely crafted', but from Latin it means 'finished'. Hence the commonly misunderstood term 'fine art'.

Here's another quote:

"Ultimately, the term fine in 'fine art' comes from the concept of final cause, or purpose, or end, in the philosophy of Aristotle. The final cause of fine art is the art object itself; it is not a means to another end except perhaps to please those who behold it."
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Nick Rains
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« Reply #33 on: June 20, 2008, 07:25:46 PM »
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So there you are, even a professional artist has no clear-cut way of defining the word other than by personal opinion of what seemed to have ticked the box or not!

Rob C
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I see no paradox here - your friend is an artist and is thus qualified to decide which of his works should called art.

Like I suggested, art is what is created by an artist, in whatever medium he or she chooses.
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Nick Rains
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Rob C
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« Reply #34 on: June 21, 2008, 02:42:40 AM »
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Photography is art if the photograph is taken by an artist. Let's worry about what makes some person an artist since no medium is intrinsically 'art'.
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But the above statement is not what you are saying in the later one, where you introduce the flexibility that allows the artist to say WHEN his work might be art; the first statement, by being a straighforward proposition of meaning, would indicate that ALL work done by an artist is art, regardless of whether good or bad, or even whether the artist considers it to be art.

So you see, far from simple.

I am also a little worried about the second concept, that no medium is intrinsically art: if not art, what is painting, ballet, opera or any other such endeavour where art is its sole reason for being? It might not be good art, possibly will be poor art, but isnīt it art nonetheless?

I exclude photography here because there are many instances where it has no artistic intent at all, but is purely functional, a route to something else such as information. Not, of course, that it cannot also be art.

Rob C
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Petrjay
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« Reply #35 on: June 21, 2008, 08:40:06 AM »
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You can exclude opera as well Rob. There's nothing like a healthy dose of Wagner coupled with a motion sensor to keep deer out of the vegetable garden.

Peter J
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« Reply #36 on: June 21, 2008, 08:47:24 AM »
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You can also exclude painting. I suspect most (but surely not all) house painters think that the purpose of their work is to protect the house, not as "art".  
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« Reply #37 on: June 21, 2008, 11:52:19 AM »
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Maybe doing art is more important than defining art, at least for artists ;-)

To address an attempt at definition, art is more about intent and circumstances than about fact.  Think about Marcel Duchamp's Urinoir.  It was considered art because of the circumstances in which it was shown.  In it's intended location it was considered to be, well, a urinoir!

Marcel Duchamp's page on Wikipedia

Note: the urinoir is called a "fountain" on Wikipedia.
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Alain Briot
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ChrisS
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« Reply #38 on: June 21, 2008, 12:53:36 PM »
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Maybe doing art is more important than defining art, at least for artists ;-)

To address an attempt at definition, art is more about intent and circumstances than about fact.  Think about Marcel Duchamp's Urinoir.  It was considered art because of the circumstances in which it was shown.  In it's intended location it was considered to be, well, a urinoir!

Marcel Duchamp's page on Wikipedia

Note: the urinoir is called a "fountain" on Wikipedia.
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Alain - Duchamp's Fountain (as it's known - see
[a href=\"http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=26850&tabview=text&texttype=10]http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cg...ext&texttype=10[/url]
for example) is a great case. In one context, it's a urinal; in another, it's one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. It achieves this shift because, as you say, of an intention, or a claim, and a shift of context. And that, I think, is the idea or concept that Duchamp refers to, and which has altered the face of much art since.

And it's that idea that lies behind the shift of a photograph from a fridge door to an art gallery - the status of the photograph changes with intention and location. Then it all depends on reception - could it be considered important and if so, on what grounds?  

And I'm sure that for an artist, doing art is more important than defining it!

Cheers, Chris
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alainbriot
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« Reply #39 on: June 21, 2008, 02:05:06 PM »
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Then it all depends on reception - could it be considered important and if so, on what grounds? 

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The initial response to Duchamp's urinoir fountain was ridicule, rejection and negative reviews.  It's a frequent initial response to cutting edge work.  Whether this reaction defines art or not is another question.  Maybe it does.

Let's do Art!
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Alain Briot
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