This semester, I’ve been taking an art photography course along with my two writing courses. So far, we’ve viewed and discussed numerous photographs and several videos, as well as preparing and viewing two projects of our own—a portrait project and a video portrait project. One thing that keeps coming back to me during this class is the question, “What is art?”
Photographs as Art
One set of photographs we looked at were taken by a lady whose friends during the ’70s were primarily drag queens. Most of her photographs are of these drag queens and transvestites, hanging out at bars or doing drugs in their small, messy rooms. She is now considered a leading “art photographer.” As I viewed her pictures, I wondered what made them art, as opposed to the pictures of any other drinking, drug-doing teenager in the ’70s.
Videos as Art
On another morning in class, we viewed a birthing video. I personally found this rather amusing, but I’ve seen birthing videos before and have two kids (so I viewed the video thinking “oh, that’s what it looks like when that’s happening!”). However, most of the people in my class are 18-year-old first-year arts students, who probably found that video a bit shocking.
Again, I wondered—what makes that video art (especially when the camera was at times shaky and out of focus) as opposed to, say, the video my husband could have taken if I’d let him when I was giving birth? (That video would have showed much more action and much less nudity!)
What is Art?
When we were viewing our portrait projects, we saw one black and white picture of a young woman, dressed in black, sitting on the ground in the corner of a patio. Her face waspartly turned down, away from the camera. I would have called the photo “depression“—it shouted emotion to me. Yet our prof looked at it quizzically and said, “What is going on here? I don’t know what this picture is about. It doesn’t do anything for me.” I, on the other hand, thought it was the best of the four my fellow student had taken.
Maybe art is just done by those who call themselves artists. We looked at the work of another art photographer who left his career as a commercial photographer to pursue art. Our prof mentioned that he wasn’t readily accepted in the art world—many established art photographers told him to go back to commercial photography. He persisted, demanding art exhibits and pushing himself into the art world. He’s been called arrogant, but according to our prof, if he hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t have been recognized as the great photographer he is. So is art then just about being pushy, about calling what you do “art”?
What is art to you? And what do you think makes it art?