Art can play two distinct roles in the life of an artist. It can be a goal and it can be a means to other things. As a goal, art is about the making of things. As a means, art is a way of living, a way of engaging with the world, being receptive to the lessons it has to teach, and sharing something of the artist’s own sensibilities with others. Both approaches will result in the production of works of art. When practised as a goal, the product is the final stop, but when art is approached as a way of life, it is just one of many by-products of living deliberately.
My approach to art is not limited to an occupation or an activity. Though my work involves the making of art, it is not just about the making of art. Art, to me, is a dimension of life – a way of sharing part of an inner world otherwise not available to anyone but myself.
Attempting to provide a clear-cut definition for art is a daunting and perhaps impossible endeavor. The term morphs with the fashions and sensibilities of different times and places, and new incarnations appear with some regularity as new movements and media and trends evolve. Nonetheless, I offer that it is important to not take anything in art for granted – not what you see in galleries and museums, and not what you may learn in art schools. The duty of the artist is not to blindly comply with notions of art at a certain point in time, but to shape those that will follow.
While photographic art has gained some ground in recent decades, it is still greeted with skepticism in some traditional art venues. This is doubly true for art rooted in beauty, and yet more so for art derived of natural aesthetics. The life of a photographic artist is thus a pioneering one. Many artists do not consider what I do to be art, and many photographers do not consider it photography. So be it.
Art is not a science. It has no objective or consistent method for validating or disproving hypotheses. This is because, in art, concepts such as proof, veracity or falsehood have no meaning. Art is purely subjective and one’s notions about what is or is not art are as valid as another’s, even if in complete contradiction. It is why art complements science so well. Those with a foundation in both may truly consider themselves ‘well-rounded’ as they recognize that some aspects of life benefit from factual, practical knowledge; while others delight in mystery and ambiguity.
Despite the lack of a universally accepted definition for art, most of us intuitively have a sense for what it is and can engage in meaningful discussions about it. In this sense, art is in the good company of words such as life, existence, time or spirituality. And, like other terms in this category, we each interpret our intuitive notions to fit our innate sense of the nature of existence and knowledge. This is the realm of philosophy. Like science, philosophy plays a role in my artistic pursuits and my understanding of the world and of myself.
Photography, in its most literal sense, is not an art; it is a medium defined by a set of tools and processes. Just like ‘painting’ can be used to describe both artistic renderings and the application of paint to the walls of a room, ‘photography’ merely implies the use of photographic tools. The distinction of ‘art’ comes not from the media, but from the way in which it is applied. I therefore do not consider myself a photographer who creates art. Rather, I am an artist working in the medium of photography. Beyond all else, my life is my art, and any works I produce along the way merely serve to articulate the things I find meaningful at various times on my journey, and that I wish to share with the world.
Read this and many more articles in High Definition inside Issue 41 of Landscape Photography Magazine.