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Art vs. Non Art
updated: Jan 05, 2013, 4:00 PM

By Steve McGovern

So I woke up this morning thinking about the discussion on Edhat this week about art vs. not-art. The argument is that art is painting, drawing, sculpturing, but not photography. Art is created from the depths of an artist's mind. Photographs are simply the result of pointing a camera at something and pushing a button. Anybody can take pictures.

I can't decide the issue for others, just for me. I mean, would Christo's creations be art without the photographs of it? He drapes things, extends cloth for miles over hilly country, or whatever, and then takes pictures of it. Is the project the art? Are the photographs of it the art? Most of us will never see the real thing, just the pictures. Hard for me to separate the the "art" from the photos of it.

I take thousands of photos every year and I think some of it is fairly artsy, so I think photography CAN be art... but sometimes it's just a pretty picture. For me it comes down to this: Art is not art BECAUSE it leaps fully formed from someone's mind. In my opinion, some of the stuff Picasso did was junk. On the other hand, some of Ansel Adam's pictures were snapshots. What it comes down to is this: There is nowhere else locally, other than Edhat, where 1000 people will look at a photograph taken by an amateur photographer. Sometimes, people even say nice things about them. If someone says something negative about mine, I don't care. I will look at it again to see if they might be right, but in the end, if I like it, I don't care about negative comments.

I can't draw. I can't sculpt. I can't paint (mostly because I can't draw). So, I take pictures. I don't make any money doing it. I shoot something I think is interesting and then I might work with it in Photoshop or, at least, iPhoto and I like to think I improve it. Sometimes, I make it look entirely different than it did when I pointed my camera at it. If I don't like the result, I get rid of it. I wish some "artists" were as discerning. More than that, I wish some art lovers were more discerning.

Didn't want to spend too much time on something that really doesn't matter. Instead, I went out and took some pretty pictures. Not trying to make art. I just like the colors.

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Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 360538 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:14 PM

I am an artist. I paint, draw and make jewelry. Photography can be an art. Music can be, also. Not every painting, drawing, piece of jewelry...photograph or piece of music is "Art". For something to be truly "Art" it must step beyond the mundane into true beauty. (If it "makes you think", it may be enlightening, but not necessarily "Art".)


 COMMENT 360539 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:16 PM

An interesting comment on "Art" I heard this week was something like

To say a camera created a photo is like saying a typewriter (computer) created a novel. Clearly, it is the person behind the lens that is telling the story.

I have seen a LOT of photos that are not artistic and many that are. At the Getty a docent said that painters add items to their compositions, photographers remove them.

But some do not see the difference between an artistic photo and a documentary photo. Like when the Urban Hikers document a fire vs when Aquaholic thinks about what to include in a beach photo.


 COMMENT 360540 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:16 PM

Those are Art.


 COMMENT 360542 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:19 PM

These images offer the discovery of beauty and the successful capture (and possibly the embellishment) of it. I think that's a skill as well as talent in your case. Many pretty photos are just that, and the interpretation is up to the viewer.


 COMMENT 360545P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:30 PM

When taking a photo, a photographer has to know the capabilities of a camera, much like an artist has to know the proper techniques in using a particular medium.

After the technical aspects are learned and known, then composition and color are both important to a painting and a photo. Timing is important to both as well, e.g. the time of day. However, photography has the additional skill required in some shots - with moving objects, of restricted time.

Thus, for a painting the canvas is filled with paint according to the eye and the skill of a painter; in a photograph, the image is filled with light corralled and framed by the eye and skill of the photographer.


 POWDRELL agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:31 PM

Interesting thoughts. I've wrestled with this issue too.

Frankly, I think photography can be art just as music, dance, poetry, storytelling and painting can be art.

There is good art and there is exceptional art. I have yet to stumble upon bad art.


 COMMENT 360548P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:39 PM

And then there is the art of a picture in the mind of a reader, painted by the words of a writer.


 COMMENT 360549P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:47 PM

"Art is anything you can get away with."
Marshall McLuhan/Andy Wahol.

I read years ago where Christo said the actual putting together of a project, permits, permisson to use private land, liability/insurance issues, organizing and motivating volunteers, cajoling people in power,etc., was the art. As well as the final piece.


 COMMENT 360551 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 04:56 PM

Photography is an Art. The viewpoint that it isn't is about 100 years out of date. The fact that photographic images are ubiquitous doesn't diminish the art form anymore than people doodling on napkins diminishes the art of drawing.
While I applaud your willingness to publicly own such a stupid statement, I hope in so doing you have also learned that you just because you can do it doesn't invalidate as an art form for others who do it better.


 BECKY agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 05:00 PM

Perhaps art is like porn (according to Supreme Court Justice Stewart), you know it when you see it? I'll take 100 pretty photos, at least a few of which will be art to me, over some of the "art" being produced by painters, sculptors, directors, dancers or others classified as "artists." One of the joys of edhat is the beautiful photography of our beautiful world, which I especially appreciate when I'm stuck inside working. The few minutes to witness beauty refreshes and gladdens me.


 COMMENT 360555 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 05:09 PM

The argument against photography being art has been going on for almost a century... a 100 year old argument (hint hint). Those who want to bring it up again should do a bit of research, read a book or two or even look at the works of Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Iriving Penn, Anne Liebowitz, Paolo Roversi, Galen Rowell, Nick Brandt, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Edward Steichen, Alfred Steiglitz, Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe, Katrin Eismann, Scott Stulberg, Robert and Shana Parke-Harrison, Brooke Shaden, John Paul Caponigro, Julianne Kost, Vincent Versace, David Michael Kennedy and many more.

Want to see contemporary photographers who are really good at what they do? Check out the 500 explored images selected every day on Flickr.... or the ones voted most interesting or popular on 500px. That stuff is inspiring and spell binding and just plain awesome.... not the stuff any monkey with an expensive camera can shoot.


 COMMENT 360557 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 05:17 PM

I agree with Becky's first sentence. And Steve, I met you one year ago on Stearns Wharf when we were photographing a surfski, SUP, and one man outrigger race. That's going to repeat next Saturday.

This is off topic but forgive me. I learned this week that Edhat will no longer post photos of dogs and cats except if they are lost or found. I submitted photos of my kitties and was told they would be put in the Cat of the Week file, to be posted sometime later, in order that they are received.

I responded that it's not my site and Ed can do whatever they want. Yet I think this is the start of the decline of Edhat.


 COMMENT 360569 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 05:30 PM

@360538 Thank you for bringing Music into the conversation. As a pianist of now 73 years, I immediately thought of impressions in the mind by people listening to music. As a young teenaged pianist, I studied Impressionistic music, not by choice, but my Maestra saw something in me that could convey feelings, imagery and spiritual qualities to listeners, if they were receptive.

I did not like this at first and did not understand it. I worked so hard on one piece that looked so easy to read. But it took years to put the nuances for the overall effect. My first audience sat dumbfounded when I finished. I was young, and thought, O My God, they did not like it.
Then they erupted in applause. I had put them in a boat, rocked them gently, had them ripple their fingers in the water, and taken them into a storm and then returned them to the solace of a peaceful lake. All without them recognizing the opus I had rendered to them.


 SBROCKS agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 05:31 PM

Best book ever, Tolstoy, "What is Art?". I call myself a "Fine Art Photographer". Art is in the eye of the beholder. Enough said.


 COMMENT 360584 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 05:57 PM

Art is in the eye of the bewildered. ;)


 COMMENT 360588 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 06:08 PM

Thanks, Steve McGovern, for bringing back the question about photography and art. Some photographs are art, of course, they are! Others are but representations: I don't think that newspaper photos, for the most part, are art, although some of Paul Wellman's at the Indy come very close and get there! Those are the ones that invite looking beyond the surface. That, to me, defines art: is there something there beyond the represented: does it make one think, does it make one feel? If so, as music is more than just sounds, it's art.

Sorry to hear that, Dan, about pictures of your kitties. They have pleased many, many, even this bird and dog lover. But as for lost and found: I submitted a picture of an apparently lost little dog I spotted on Milpas about a week ago, thinking it might be seen by the owner who surely was missing it, that it was news, for the owner, as much as would have been a lost human. (The woman it was following told me it had a tag, but she couldn't get close to read it.)

The pictures had to go into Classifieds, but I would not pay for an ad. Agreed, it's not our site and I am not sure it's the start of a decline, but it seems to me too bad. If I find or know of a lost dog, I will not go again to the effort of making/sending a photo.

But art: if I think a photo is art and you think it is but representational reality, then what is it? Probably calling something "art" or "artistic" is a meaningless description.


 COMMENT 360594 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 06:35 PM

Another example is graffiti. Most is unwanted and ugly. However I have seen some very artistic graffiti.


 COMMENT 360605 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 06:57 PM

WAIT...what?? Is Dan correct? Edhat won't publish any more dog or cat pictures unless they're animal of the week?? What brain-trust was behind THAT idea?

What about the myriad sunrise/sunset pictures, potato bugs in driveways, baby hummingbirds, etc.? Will they be banned, too?

I LIKE the dog and cat pictures, and I know a lot of other readers do, too. Please reconsider this terrible decision.

Thank you.


 COMMENT 360609P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 07:18 PM

Perhaps Edhat will provide a policy statement on what dog and cat photos can be published. I enjoy seeing people's pets -- I have two of my own -- but would not want Edhat to start posting "please adopt me" photos. Craigslist is a better site for that need.


 COMMENT 360613 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 07:35 PM

OH, please do not stop the dog and cat of the week. Or Dan;'s kitties. I look forward to these and send them out allover the world each week.Not to long ago, edhat was asking for more of these. What happened?

They add a cheery feeling to some otherwise dull days.


 COMMENT 360614P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 07:39 PM

Re the change in policy on submission of dog and cat and "kitty" photos: Actually, it may be the start of a new level of professional awareness at Edhat. Surely, there are other venues for those who may be overly obsessed with such things? Moving towards a more news-centered format, less dependent on an in-group clique of those who submit daily photos, would be a positive move, one to be applauded. Change is hard sometimes, but it is good. Bravo, Edhat, for moving forward.


 COMMENT 360624 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 08:44 PM

Years ago I was on Edhat when one day there were no longer handles, only numbers. Then after the numbered comments appeared suddenly colored numbers showed up. The changes just showed up without any warning.

This is the way of Edhat, and I'm a paid member that supports this site. But any change to policy is never announced, it just appears.

Feel free to contact Edhat about this, but from what they told me, this is it.

What's next? No more sunsets, no more birds, no more photos from airplanes?

Will Roger be posted one day a week?


 SBSURFERLIFE agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-05 10:21 PM

Dan I don't think it's fair to start rumors about Edhat on the comment boards. You said that they won't post your cat photos, which makes sense. This isn't a cat website. No offense, but why do you expect your cats to be posted when everyone else has to wait for theirs to be in the Cat of the Week section?

I emailed Ed and they said the Cat/Dog of the Week will continue, so it sounds like you're just upset your cats won't be featured when you want them.


 COMMENT 360651P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 02:32 AM

The "decline" of edhat for not publishing photos of random dogs and cats,.. a decline ?.... The word "improvement" comes to my mind.


 COMMENT 360654P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 03:46 AM

On the subject of banning dog and cat photos (except for dog/cat of the week), I suppose those of you who need your pet posting fix could always sneak in a cute pic or two with your Flash Friday postings?

As far as photography being art: of course it is. That's a no-brainer. My gripe with some of the photos posted is the photoshopping and enhancement that takes place. I don't think anyone should post a photo and present it as a true sunrise/sunset/beach scene/landscape/waterfowl shot, when it has been tweaked to the point of complete misrepresentation.

Why not show the true colors and tints and lighting? Unless you're going for some kind of special effects photo: in which case it should be labeled as such.


 COMMENT 360666 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 06:49 AM

Great article and some great photos.

For me it depends on the situation in which I'm shooting to whether it's more artful then just a "photo".

But I do feel it's a form of art when you're taking the shot and factor in the lighting, composition, camera settings. etc. For me it's especially a factor in most of my landscape shooting. Evaluating the scene to "create" the most artful photograph.

A great quote...

“You don't take a photograph, you make it.” ? Ansel Adams


 COMMENT 360669 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 06:57 AM

Sheesh. If your dog/Cat pic is artsy, it may be posted.

Most art is intentional, I painted, I photographed, I wrote(writing is an art too, but I think we are focused on visual arts, no?) I played a tune, I wrote a tune.

Some art is more random, some art accidental. The sports photographer, standing close to the race track, stumbles, trips the shutter as he falls and gets a magazine cover shot.(confirmed;-))

The poster describing Christo's art was spot on; for him it was the entire process from conception to emplacement.

Stacks of rocks, the art is as much the process as the result.


 COMMENT 360699 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 08:57 AM

Very beautiful images, Steve. What are these vertical columns rising from the clouds in the first picture?
While you opened a stimulating subject I am somewhat perplexed to understand how it came to degenerate into diatribes about cat and dog art on the part of some respondents.


 COMMENT 360700 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 08:57 AM

Every art museum disagrees that photography can't be art. I'll take their opinions over those of the philistines posting to EdHat who claim it can't be.


 COMMENT 360706 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 09:16 AM

art is creation. a camera is just a tool, like a paint brush, to create an image. so photography is an art. as is music. mathematical theories. graphic design. digital illustration. whether or not art is beautiful or not is in the eye of the beholder.


 COMMENT 360711 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 09:35 AM

If it makes you perceive something at least a little bit differently, it qualifies as art, in my estimation. (Why it is so important to determine that qualification escapes me.)

But there can be good art - that really contributes to that different vision - and crappy art, that really doesn't add much.

And I don't think anyone can validly label himself an "artist". That is for the perceiver to decide.


 COMMENT 360753 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 11:25 AM

To some people, a simple picture of a cute dog or cat is every bit as wonderful as a shot of a glorious sunset. I like the sunset pictures too, but I think it's nice we also get to look at some cute pet pictures.

As far as speculation about Edhat maybe trying to be more "newsy," I think that would totally be a step in the wrong direction. Edhat isn't a newspaper, nor did it ever claim to be. If I want a newspaper, I'll read the L.A. Times. I rely on Edhat to present mostly reader-generated events and opinions of interest--up to and including animal pictures.


 COMMENT 360778 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 12:34 PM


They aren't vertical. Remember that a photo is a 2D projection of a 3D world, and remember what you learned about perspective in your art or drafting classes. (Hint: if a plane overhead is flying toward you and you take a picture of it, what is the direction of the plane and its contrail in the photo?) Also remember this the next time that people on EdHat insist that a contrail extending from the horizon is a missile launch.


 COMMENT 360787P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 01:09 PM

I'm the one who speculated (and that's all it was) about its being a "positive move" if Edhat were to become maybe more news-based and become _less reliant_ on so many dog, cat (and nature-type) photos. I admit I'm not a big fan of these nor of the inevitable dozen or so "beautiful boy" comments that follow. More recently, there are the resident photographers who seem to need to compliment one another's work back and forth all day. To me, it seems to get a bit too in-group at times and my own sense is that this sort of thing is better off on a person's FB page. Yes, one can usually skip such things, but I assume I'm not the only one that reads the general comments thread at times before individual stories? A suggestion I've offered before would be to add a tab for photos, or even one for pets, but I'm not sure how much added work this would be for the Edhat staff. In the end, I guess, each of us may have different views regarding the site's "purpose," but ultimately that will be a direction determined by the people who run it, hopefully with subscriber input as has been the case in the past.


 COMMENT 360789P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 01:33 PM

When you can adapt, you can survive. I think the new policy on submissions is a positive step. A site is either a hobby or a business. The hand-wringing, gong thumping and gnashing of teeth is premature if not inflammatory. I'm a paid member but I'm also a guest. My disagreements with my host would not be put out on Front Street simply out of basic courtesy.


 COMMENT 360819P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 03:01 PM

if photography isn't art then my name is ansel adams.


 COMMENT 360898 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-06 08:38 PM

SBsurferlife, I'm not starting a rumor, I'm stating fact.

For more than five years I've been sending in photos to Edhat and every single one was posted. Even a photo of a pile of dirt. The only reason I expected my "cat" photos to be posted is because Peter posted everything.


 COMMENT 360985 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-07 08:56 AM

711..."That is for the perceiver to decide."? Seriously? So I went to school to train as an artist, I make and sell art...so YOU get to decide if I am one or not? Does that also apply to doctors, lawyers and taxi drivers? They can only BE doctors lawyers or taxi drivers if the preceivers SAY they are doctors lawyers or taxi drivers? What do you do for a living? What is YOUR passion? I say....you aren't that...you are something else.


 SMAC6590 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-07 10:49 AM

OP. 700 is right of course. Contrails. Looking at it again, I should have taken out the upper right contrail. Someone once said "a poem is never finished... just abandoned." Same with a photograph. Photography is a process; the photograph is the art. As with other art forms, I believe the "quality" of a photograph can be properly judged objectively as well as subjectively. But perhaps, with photos, the objective quality is more widely judged because nearly everyone has a camera and most are familiar with the basic constructs of photography: eg, lighting, composition, clarity, color, contrast.


 COMMENT 361068 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-07 11:28 AM

Inspiring photos....I take them to be an expression of art, as now I am off to my studio, inspired by your photos to move around some paint...thanks for the motivation


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