What is Fine Art Photography?

Is this fine art?  Or is it just an advertisement for a camera?  The answer may be clearer than you think.  Image courtesy Canon.

Is this fine art?  Or is it just an advertisement for a camera?  The answer may be clearer than you think.  Image courtesy Canon.

Most of the time, I try to keep the content to gear, workflows and tutorials, but from time to time, I see or hear something that sets me off.  A very good friend recently posted a very innocent item on Google Plus asking what fine art photography is.  Not her fault that the question pisses me off.  To understand that, you have to understand the story of Richard Halley.  If that reference is too obscure, try Vincent Van Gogh

When Van Gogh was alive, his work was shunned.  He couldn't sell a piece to feed himself because the authorities of the day determined that his work was not art.  I would ask "by what standard" could they make such judgement, and "by what authority" their opinion counted for more than the bucket of human waste dumped out the window of their manses that morning.

I went to the authority on everything according to some, Mr. Google and found this…


Let's look at the primary definition.  "Products to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic or intellectual content."  Sounds pretty decent so far, because it makes no definition of who the appreciators are.  Sadly the definition continues to include an example discussing the convergence of popular culture and fine art.  There is no context provided for the example and it is as ludicrous as it looks.  Pop culture is like opinion editorial, vague, biased and omnipresent.

Art is appreciated by an individual.  Individuals can be smart or not smart, but society and people in general are idiots who could not find their own butt with both hands.  As connectedness increases, and actual thought decreases, the value of things is no longer determined by intelligence but by the fastest and most repetitive fingers of the mob mentality, which as we all know from the quality of product on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al is well below the functional value of benign bacteria.  Stir in some political correctness and social justice warriors to make the whole thing really unpalatable.

Thus, what constitutes Fine Art, by definition, is whatever you think is fine art because it stimulates you in some way as an individual.  We have the Van Gogh example amongst many to see what a societal or critic's view value is worth.  I don't think Van Gogh was brilliant because I am told he was.  I think that he was brilliant because some of his paintings make me feel deeply.  I could sit in front of Starry Night for hours.  Others leave me flat.  When we look at art, we personally decide, hopefully by our own standards, whether something is fine or not, and do not depend on such definitions bestowed upon us riffraff by those who think that they know better.  Look at works by these "acknowledged" fine artists.  Caravaggio, Renoir, Rodin, Michelangelo, Henry Moore, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Titian, Picasso, Pollack and Warhol.  Each is different, individual pieces are different.  Do you think that they are all the same?  Does each piece evoke the same response from you?

Now go look at images by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Alfred Steiglitz, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Steve McCurry, Vivian Maier and Joe McNally.  All are "respected" masters of the photographic craft.  Does each image carry the same value for you?

The answer to both questions is "of course not".  To say that they all create the same value and impact means that the utterer has not actually "seen" the work.  It's the claim of an idiot.

I included Vivian Maier for a reason.  Her work was lost completely.  No one had ever seen it, other than herself.  Did that make it less "fine" because someone else has to define work as "fine" to make it so?   To believe such a thing is a sacrifice of the mind, by agreeing that you are incapable of forming your own judgement.  If this is the case, please be sure to sign your organ donor card right away.

The concept and definition of Fine Art as a designation makes about as much sense as believing you can have your lunch and eat it too.  To accept such a statement means that you are willingly murdering your own sense of value.  What I said earlier about organ donor cards.

William Vanderbilt is the originator, or at least its most famous user, of the phrase "the public be damned"  It was naturally interpreted by the literary elite of the day to mean that industrialists did not care about the public welfare.  Sometimes ignoring the context and the facts makes for convenient headlines, or in our world, tweets and other social media sewage.  Vanderbilt said this, but he said other things at the same time, conveniently ignored by the reporter Clarence Dresser.  Mr. Dresser, were he alive today, would love social media, given its power to be omnipresent and unencumbered by facts.  How does this align to the topic of Fine Art?  it is an allegory of how not listening is akin to not seeing, and how there are myriad people and organizations who want to tell you what and how to think.

The idiocy of a designation of work as Fine Art by some pinhead or some collection of pinheads, is a corollary to why I think that photographic contests are a complete and utter waste of time.  They exist for the purpose of ego inflation or destruction, and the continued support of the ridiculous idea that someone else's opinion is better than your own independent thought.  May such people all burn in the hell that they conceive.

If you got this far, you probably care about art.  This can be as a creator or appreciator or both.  Art is not "fine" by its act of creation, nor is it fine because someone else says it is.  A pile of dog poop is not art.  A pile of dog poop on canvas is not art because some dork with an advanced degree in BS says it is.  Decide for yourself, there's no one else more capable of making that decision for you.  Warhol makes me want to throw up.  Rodin makes me weep.  Your mileage may varies and that is the right answer on what constitutes fine art to you.

Have an idea for an article or tutorial?  Do you have a question photo or video unrelated to this article?  Send me an email directly at ross@thephotovideoguy.ca

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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, and until next time, peace.



By the way, if you are curious about Richard Halley, follow this link to learn a bit.