But is it Art?

Technical competence can be learned by almost anyone, but what makes a photograph a work of art? Mark Bauer explains why it is the merits of the piece, not the medium, which determine whether a work is art

On a pretty regular basis, this old chestnut crops up: is photography art? Whenever anyone asks this question, I counter with another: is painting art? Like photography, painting can be both art and craft. The ‘craft’ is the technical side of things and relatively easy to evaluate. The ‘art’ is slightly harder to define. For me, to reach the status of art, a work has to have vision, imagination and be capable of evoking an emotional response in the viewer. I spend a lot of time looking at paintings and the vast majority of what I see falls into the category of ‘craft’, in that it is technically competent – occasionally outstanding – but lacks the vision, imagination and emotion that I consider necessary for it to be considered art.

If you hold these criteria in mind when viewing paintings, you will probably conclude that outside of the collections in major galleries and museums, very few works qualify as art. Look at the paintings in your average high street gallery and you will see that …

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About Author

Mark Bauer

Mark Bauer is one of the UK’s leading landscape photographers with work published worldwide. He is the author of 3 books, including ‘The Landscape Photography Workshop’ (with Ross Hoddinott).


  1. Avatar
    Larry Johnson on

    Don’t overthink this issue. Art is art, and the medium is simply the means to convey it. One doesn’t become an “artist” when they pick up a camel-hair brush, they become a painter. Let’s let people choose the tools and techniques that work best for them as they express their ideas and visions.

  2. Avatar

    Being both a pro photographer and painter I never wrestled with whether or not photography can be art. It can be but a point that is missing in this essay is intent.

    Some photographs can transcend being simply documentary, but more often than not it is the original concept, statement or intent by the artist, that defines the image as “Art” (with a capital A) or not.

    Both disciplines have artificial barriers and strata built in. I had an illustrator friend describe me in a phone conversation “just a photographer.” Then again this same artist would be considered only as an “illustrator” by the established Art community.

    All this has become more apparent to me as I transition from the commercial world to fine art.

  3. Avatar

    I have to agree with you. As a trained, but not very good, artist, I had a built in bias that photography was not, nor could it ever be, art. Things change. Now, I am a believer because I have seen photographs that can definitely be classified as art; even taken a few myself. In art, there are no rules. Guidelines and suggestions for a particular movement, maybe. I joined a local photography club and found that it was being run by a bunch of retired pros. They were the ones who conducted the critique portion of the meetings and wouldn’t you know it, they were hide bound with photographic rules. They knew their craft forwards and backwards. They were always spouting off about saturation, contrast, cropping, blur, and the almighty rule of thirds, but gave short shrift to all creative work. Oddly enough, they were the first ones to emphasize the fact that photography was art. In art, rules are meant to be broken. If artists had to follow these photographers rules, we would be stuck in a time warp. We would all still be doing cave paintings.

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