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Author Topic: The 4 Levels in Art  (Read 74497 times)
opgr
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« on: September 27, 2005, 06:41:39 AM »
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In light of the recent discussions about user critique I decided to try at a loose definition of photography as Art. This may help in understanding which aspects we care to learn about in the user critique section. (It also helps to add some more non-technical discussions to the forum).

In my opinion there are 4 main criteria (possibly levels?):

1. Competence
Obviously it is helpful to have a technically correct art-expression. The artist does not need to be competent with the medium chosen, because competence can be hired, as in a director & camera crew. However, it probably helps if you know the characteristics of the medium.

2. Composition
Probably the most discussed part of Art. It's important to have a sound composition, as in: All elements should contribute to the composition and support the narrative. There is necessarily one and only one subject. You should be able to form a single sentence that describes the composition.

3. Narrative
The expression should convey a predetermined message or story. If it doesn't, then the expression becomes random communication which reeks of Jules de la Tourette and usually ends up in the luna-house. If you're a proponent of making images "intuitively", it still means you have a predetermined goal to make that image with a certain framing etc to your liking. You can not submit an image without predetermination, as it would constitute a contradiction of terms. The act of offering such an image as a form of expression = predetermination.
The message should preferably be effective, as in the majority of the audience can empathize with the story.

4. Metaphor
To actual make it to the level or Art with a capital A, an expression needs to encapsulate a predetermined metaphor. It should have an additional, more profound message with a deeper impact, on top of the more obvious narrative. It can of course be a pinch of salt or a slap in the face metaphor. It could be irony, sarcasm, or any of those hard-to-define traits.


And to spice up the discussion: we all have different levels of skill when it comes to photography. But we also have different ambitions in level of skill. It appears that the vast majority of say more than 90% never makes it beyond level 1, and remain dwelling in the technicalities of equipment ad nauseum. I recently read an analogy about people discussing the absolute top-speeds of their sports-cars, but only being able to take their multi-thousand $ cars for a short 55mph trip to the local grocery shop. I LMAO.

Only a small portion actually make it to & thru level 2. This is entirely due to the subjective nature of the beast. That is why you find so many "technical" minded people lining up on level 1 with some faint ambition to drop their current career and instead aspiring to pursue a career of free spiritness and rebellion, but never being able to make it to level 2 because the lack of guidelines. And they keep growing over time. It's almost like a polarity thing, where electrons collect at the gate...

Level 3 of course is where things become interesting. This is where you learn to "communicate" as opposed to just uttering well-formed language. It does require a certain amount of emotional wisdom because you need to recognize a possible story to be able to transfer it through communication. It takes one to know one. You can read a book to children boring them to h*** or you can tell a story that captures them. A story narrated well, invites a return visit. A point&shoot moment simply spells: nice image, goodbye, next... In other words; an intuitive image usually says "i didn't take the time to think this over, so why should the audience?"

And then there is Level 4.
Well, I'm not an Artist, what can I say?
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Oscar Rysdyk
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howard smith
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« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2005, 09:49:32 AM »
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Interesting ideas.

Competence isn't usually rented by users of this site.  They prefer to do it themselves.

Composition is, arguably, the most discussed and least understood element of art on this site.

Narrative is usually provided as words by the photographer.  The image isn't allowed or required to speak for itself.

Methaphor is at most a pinch of salt.  Now salt is a great spice and can be quite subtle, but there is pepper too.
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2005, 10:27:11 AM »
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I'm not so sure that photography as art must have a predetermined narrative or metaphor because photographs can and do take on a life and meaning of their own.

On the other hand, the predetermination and accomplishment of an intended narrative or metaphor is a skill, perhaps part of the definition, of a photographer.

Certainly I have taken photographs with one intention in mind and later realised and assigned a different meaning to it.  (But I make no claim to being an artist and am only a student of photography with a poor instructor who stresses trial and error methods.)
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2005, 10:51:53 AM »
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First, I agree with Gordon's comments completely.  I've been there, too (often).

Second, one aspect of much "photography that works" that isn't addressed in your four levels, that I think needs to be in there somewhere but isn't, is that it somehow engages the thought and/or imagination of the viewer.  To have the viewer notice the narrative and/or metaphor but not care is a partial failure.  I feel that the best work engages the imagination of the viewer, getting them to ask themselves questions like, "I wonder how those people are feeling and/or what paths led them there?" or "I wonder what interesting place that trail goes to?" or "Who built those ruins long ago and why did they allow them to decay?" or even just "It looks unreal and magical; where on earth could that possibly be?", or, better yet, gets the viewer to imagine themselves to be "inside" the scene and consider how they feel there.

Lisa
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howard smith
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« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2005, 11:41:16 AM »
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"... , because photographs can and do take on a life and meaning of their own."

My father used to tell me that "even blind hogs acorns once in a while."

This is part of the reason that everyone with a camera thinks they are real photographers, because they have one good image to prove it.

Lisa, you certainly have a very active imagination.
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opgr
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« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2005, 11:42:18 AM »
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Certainly I have taken photographs with one intention in mind and later realised and assigned a different meaning to it.
Isn't that like avoiding the responsibility of your communication?

I presume you assigned a different meaning to an image because the majority of your environment assigned a different meaning to it. But obviously one can't change the initial *intention* after the fact. The intended communication apparently failed. If I don't accept that, how can I learn from mistakes, or change my communication?

Assigning those skills to the definition of a photographer is an interesting take. I first started out writing the 4 traits as competence required by the artist. (as in "technical competence", "compostional competence"). But I realized quickly that that doesn't hold for technical competence as mentioned.
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Oscar Rysdyk
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opgr
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« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2005, 11:53:53 AM »
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Second, one aspect of much "photography that works" that isn't addressed in your four levels, that I think needs to be in there somewhere but isn't, is that it somehow engages the thought and/or imagination of the viewer.  To have the viewer notice the narrative and/or metaphor but not care is a partial failure.  
Agreed. Empathy was presupposed though. As mentioned in the story telling analogy. You can just read the words, or you can captivate the audience. If it's worth a revisit, then people apparently care...

I understand what you mean, but I do want to be careful also. A picture can be shocking for the sake of shock. In that case it "moves" the audience, it can have a profound impact on people's life, but I don't find that a particular useful response. When you say "care" that certainly makes sense to me, because I associate that with a positive, constructive emotion.
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Oscar Rysdyk
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howard smith
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« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2005, 11:54:42 AM »
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I once took a class in the appreciation of poetry.  I was and still am amazed that a poet could jot down a few lines of not very clear English, and manage to have captured such a multitude of thoughts, ideas and emotions.  What really amazed me was the thought least likely to be the poet's real thought was the one that was most obvious to the causal reader - what the words really said.  Seems a poet just couldn't say what he really meant.
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daviddix
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« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2005, 01:40:48 PM »
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In the past I have tried to think about this topic in terms of four levels of landscape photography.

Beginner - The image has some potential but is only partially developed visually. The image lacks interesting composition and may exhibit other flaws.

Intermediate - The image is good, but the composition is not complete. When looking at these images you think about additional cropping to strengthen the image, or how moving a cloud or rock with Photoshop would strengthen the image.

Advanced/Good - The image is very good. The composition is compelling and feels complete. There are no obvious flaws that you might try to fix with Photoshop. The image has appropriate contrast, color, sharpness, etc.

Excellent/Sublime - These are the images we dream about making. The image has all the positive qualities of an advanced image with one big addition, EMOTION. When we see these images, we are pulled in and want to take a long look. An Excellent/Sublime image evokes a longing, a pain of beauty, a pull of emotion. These are the most powerful photographic images which are Art of the highest level.

While it is possible to generate an emotional response from an inferior image, the emotion usually comes from the subject and our relationship to the subject, rather than the visual image alone.

Although people generally have differing levels of emotional response to an image, I believe that an excellent/sublime image will transcend that barrier and communicate emotion to most viewers. When viewing other people’s photographs we judge the merits of the work almost immediately. Our real problem is the editing and judging of our own work. The difference between a strong advanced composition and a lyrical sublime composition which moves the heart is difficult to quantify.
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David Dix
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« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2005, 02:28:51 PM »
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Not again!  Collective monologues on the vagaries of aesthetics have been blessedly absent for quite a while.  Let it be, people!
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howard smith
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« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2005, 02:32:51 PM »
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russel, to be perfectly blunt, if you don't want to read and contribute, then don't.  Because the topic is boring to you or beneith your dignity does not mean that others don't enjoy it.
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Lisa Nikodym
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« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2005, 04:14:04 PM »
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Not again!  Collective monologues on the vagaries of aesthetics have been blessedly absent for quite a while.  Let it be, people!

This forum is call "But is it Art?".  Seems just the place to be talking about aesthetics.  What else would you have us discuss here???  I'm happy to see most anything under this forum, since it's rare for anyone to start a new post here, and it's a more interesting subject (IMO) than yet another debate about resolution and crop factors...  :p

Lisa
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2005, 07:08:06 PM »
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At the risk of piling on...

If you don't care for discussions of aesthetics or composition or the Meaning of Art, nobody's forcing you to participate or even look. If this subject bores you, go click on something in Digital Image Processing or whatever.
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Anon E. Mouse
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« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2005, 07:31:26 PM »
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Competence and composition are really one in the same and just comes down to skill. Certainly you work on both at the same time. Narrative and metaphor are not required as there is no reason to have a story and it does not need to be metaphoric of anything; a work can simply be beautiful. You may perfer Piccaso over Van Gogh because there can be a narrative and metaphors in the work, but you can not say the work is a "high level" or even better.
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2005, 08:28:26 PM »
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Suppose I make a lifetime study of photography and eventually produce a -- meaning only one -- photograph that precisely meets all of opgr's four requirements.  Thereafter, although I continue to take photographs, none quite hit the mark.  My questions are:

1) Is my one qualifying photograph "Art"?
2) Am I an artist?
3) Am I a photographer?

If I then become qualified as an artist or photographer, at what point did this occur?  After qualifying that single photograph, for what period of time am I an artist and/or photographer?

What if the qualifying photograph was the very first one?  The last one?
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Anon E. Mouse
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« Reply #15 on: September 27, 2005, 08:45:31 PM »
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Your one piece of "art" would only be "art" if recognized as such.

"Artist" is a label given to a person who creates a work of "art." (See above)

"Photographer" is a person who makes photographs. Quality of the work is not implied.
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jule
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« Reply #16 on: September 27, 2005, 08:51:27 PM »
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Thanks for your input opgr, but I beg to differ on many points, and am interested in you explaining to me your reasoning for some of your statements.

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1. Competence
Obviously it is helpful to have a technically correct art-expression.
Sorry, this is not obvious to me. Who determines what is technically 'correct'. Some works which are not what we have 'learned' to be technically correct, are the most powerful and trigger the greatest response.



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2.It's important to have a sound composition, as in: All elements should contribute to the composition and support the narrative. There is necessarily one and only one subject. You should be able to form a single sentence that describes the composition.
Who said that there should be one and only one subject?Huh What do you mean by 'subject'? In Jonathan's recent image for critiquing "POW MIA Memorial Car", in my opinion there were two subjects- the person and the car...each having their own symbolism for each viewer. Why is it necessary to form a single sentence to describe the composition?



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3.The expression should convey a predetermined message or story
I think it is a bit arrogant and controlling to assume how the viewer is going to respond to an image. How can we assume that we know that?

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3.The message should preferably be effective, as in the majority of the audience can empathize with the story.
How can we determine that a message is effective?.... just because it conforms to what you have in your mind is the meaning of your image?? So does 'majority' rule?? and make an image make the grade? What if the 'majority' don't empathise, but you have communicated deeply with ONE person, and they are moved so greatly by an image, it makes an impression on them for their entire life?

Sorry opgr, I don't think your criteria for determining wheteher something is Art works for me at all.

Is it Art?...a question which has probably been debated for centuries. I like this definition by Leo Tolstoy (written 1896)as a starting point, "#1. In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man". An interesting article is here http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361r14.html

Julie
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #17 on: September 27, 2005, 10:10:00 PM »
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Does anyone else belong to the "It is art because I tell you it is art" school of thought?
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Anon E. Mouse
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« Reply #18 on: September 27, 2005, 11:38:26 PM »
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Does anyone else belong to the "It is art because I tell you it is art" school of thought?
Well, it is a good a definition as any. "I think it is art," would most likely be more accurate.
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opgr
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« Reply #19 on: September 28, 2005, 04:45:56 AM »
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I've been asleep on my side of the globe and was pleasantly surprised to see some life in this part of the forum. Thanks everyone for participating.

I suppose I am of the school of "Art=Communication", but I realize full well that there are alternative views out there such as "Art=Interaction" or "Art=Metaphysical". I prefer "Art=Communication" because it is applicable to the majority of Art, and specifically to photography as Art. Good communication obviously is "interaction" but a photograph happens to be one of the more static media of expression.

Now, most of us learn to communicate subconsciously. That obviously doesn't mean there is no structure to it or doesn't have rules. Perhaps the Art teachers haven't been able to define the rules very well. The rules of Art can not be too strict, it results (or resulted if you will) in Artists desperately trying to break the rules, redefining them, or otherwise showing that the rules are not applicable. To then say that there are No Rules At All may be exaggerating as well. If we consider Art as an element of our society than it has structure. The trick is to properly define the structure, so we can transfer/communicate the concept. (Note that we used to ascribe something to the divine beings if we couldn't explain it properly).

Back to the criteria. Given the above, I want to emphasize the idea that it is a loose definition. One that helps me to more effectively judge images on artistic merit. I wouldn't personally apply the criteria as strict rules, and, most importantly, one should not reverse the implication:

if the rules apply, then it is art.

is completely different from:

if it is art, then the rules apply...

If you like art in some utilitarian sense, then the criteria are certainly not "required".
But it's one thing to say "art is a utility", it is entirely another to say "a utility is art".


So what about Competence?
By "technically correct" I mean: It should be reasonably clear what the medium of expression is, and how that expression should be interpreted. In photography that means a reasonably exposed image and a subject that is reasonably focused. If you don't know how a camera works, you won't be able to communicate with it. You can obviously experiment with how much blur or lack of light an image or subject can sustain until it becomes unrecognizable as an expression of art, but that simply indicates that you are really competent in the use of the camera.



As for Composition:
Obviously, as indicated, this is possibly the most discussed, least understood part of photograhy, and I am certainly the last person to be contributing something authoritatively to this matter. (And I certainly don't want this to become another monologue on the vagaries of aesthetics).

Given that "Art=Communication" I personally prefer to think of composition as creating a well-formed sentence structure. The rules of composition are then akin to the rules of language. The rules do not restrict, but instead supply relatively objective guidelines for an expression with all the freedom that comes with it, without losing the ability to effectively communicate with an audience or, better yet, captivate the audience.
I believe one of the rules of language states that a sentence has one subject only. If there is another noun, not part of the subject, it would for example be the object.
Again, I am not trying to be strict about it, I just find that there are useful parallels. If it's ambiguous what the subject of a photograph is, then the composition is usually not considered well-formed or complete and it will be hard to come up with a single sentence that describes the photograph well.  

This also doesn't mean that you can't stretch the rules to their limit, but that will only help to define the rules. They are there, because as soon as you lose the ability to communicate with your audience, you apparently crossed the line. And, if it is your intention to *captivate* your audience, then it would be useful if you didn't stretch the rules too much.

I suppose "Rules Are Tools"?


A predetermined message:
I presume we all agree that there is a difference between "Intent" and "Meaning". If you "intent" to convey a certain "meaning", then I call that "predetermination". Obviously, if the majority of your audience assigns a different meaning to your expression, then you have an opportunity to learn what kind of expression will effectively convey that different meaning.
When using language we also do not just randomly utter words. Because we intent to communicate a certain meaning, we predetermine the sentences we will use. (Although I admit that in the internut age...).

Note that I don't define who or what the audience is. To me that is irrelevant although I do not personally believe in a two men art club.



1) Is my one qualifying photograph "Art"?
Yes. IMO The important factor would be that it is your intent to produce such a photograph. Whether it takes you your entire life to do so, or you struggle your entire life to produce another, is between you and your divine creator.

2) Am I an artist?
I associate the word "artist" with the question: "What do you do for a living?"
If you do everything in your power to be an artist, then you are an artist. Whether you'll be an artist with a capital A remains to be seen. But it may not be in your lifetime that you will see it, and you have to accept that as part of the deal.

3) Am I a photographer
Did you do any weddings recently?
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Oscar Rysdyk
theimagingfactory
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