Screaming Into The Abyss

Reflections on Artistic Merit
By Ben Zvan
On July 10, 2009 at 09:41

cartier-bressonI was recently asked 'What makes a photograph fine art?'

To me, any object that transcends itself in communicating has become fine art. A photograph is just a photograph until it is an outstanding photograph.

Henri Cartier-Bresson arguably took a lot of dull snapshots with his new 35mm camera but many of the shots, at least of the ones we get to see, pull me into them and tell me more about the scene than just what the camera saw; they also tell me what the photographer saw. That is fine art.

rayographMan Ray took photographs without a camera and created imagery through pattern and texture that transcends the paper media on which it is printed. His use of old techniques mixed with new to create modern design was revolutionary. That is fine art.

WestonEdward Weston created photographs that confused the nature of shape and juxtaposed sensuality and mundanity. If it's a fruit that looks like a nude, it's a Weston. If it's a nude that looks like a fruit, it's a Weston. That is fine art.

Fine art tends to be non-commercial, but much commercial artwork rises to the level of fine art. Fine art can be simple or complex; detailed or vague; urban or natural; nude, clothed or devoid humans. It can tell a story, explore shape or form or color or tone, challenge our intellect or remind us of childhood. This list could go on forever.

In the end, the question is completely subjective and one person's fine art is another person's trash. Andres Serrano's 'Piss Christ' was railed against by Christians who felt he was maligning their faith. They were angered that the National Endowment for the Arts rewarded him with a $15,000 prize because they felt it was blasphemous rather than artistic. Ironically, one of the recognized purposes of art is to illicit an emotional response, which this certainly did.

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