Thursday, March 29, 2007

Photography Fever: Myth or Regional Reality? Or, Is There Still Widespread Multiplephobia?

Two contrasting articles made their way across my desktop recently, offering rather different views of where the market for fine art photography stands. I read a good number of photography-based blogs, and have assumed the market was blistering hot, but then I read Ana Finel Honigman's post on The Guardian's blog and got all confused:

Collectors are still shying away from investing in photography, reflecting the medium's ambivalent status in the contemporary art world. [...] The unique issues around collecting photography initially arise from the medium's reproducibility. On the surface, collectors concerned with diminishing the value of their investment seem wise to stick with unique objects and shy away from mediums that can be made in multiples.
I have to admit, that strikes me as an out-of-date analysis. Take for example this opposing view recently expressed by Brian Appel on I Photo Central

Photography fever, especially the "tableau" kind that suggests we are now in a world where simulated feelings and experiences have replaced the real thing, is the current catnip for an invasion of newly-minted wealthy collectors. Soaring prices and the influx of cash is providing a welcome boost for collectors who got in early. Once considered risky and on the fringe, these seductive photographs that describe the 'hyper-reality' of modern media or consumer culture are now THE hotbeds of critical and market attention.

The blurring of reality and unreality from artists who use the medium of photography is not only fashionable, but it's been a very good investment--so far. Lately owning a contemporary piece of art from an important camera artist is like having an endowment of sorts. The work, in many cases, begins appreciating the moment it leaves the dealer's gallery or auction house and is placed on the collector's wall.
Brian goes on to cite some recent auction sales that seem to justify his position. But perhaps, as is nearly always the case, the truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Perhaps, it's a simply a matter of comparison. Ana's point seems to be that compared with painting and sculpture, photography is still seen as risky. Or, perhaps it's all relative to where one resides. Brian is US based, Ana UK. Or maybe the difference of note is the type of photography.

I've sort of assumed photography's marketability is here to stay and already successfully erased the line between itself and painting and sculpture. Hell, to be honest, I've been thinking video is fast reaching that same point, and that photography has totally mellowed into one of the "accepted" mediums. Am I out of touch? Are folks still a bit suspect of multiples? That seems so quaint an idea to me, but obviously, I'm a bit closer to this than your average citizen. But new collectors surely are not still waiting to see if this "new-fangled" fine art form called photography is a flash in the pan, are they?

Labels: art market, photography


Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I can't blame Ana for being cautious and suspicious -- but fer cryin' out loud, photography's splattered all across Chelsea. It's definitely happening.

Are we setting the stage for the fake prints of tomorrow, as we're seeing with blizzards of fake Dali, Picasso and Chagall prints today? Perhaps --

but it doesn't tarnish the value of the real deal.

3/29/2007 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I've got a stack of postcards and other ephemera from my most recent Chelsea gallery crawl. I made the trip with Tracy Helgeson and her husband Doug, which was interesting, because Doug is really into photography and holography, and we bumped into two big, important shows in both media. Doug and I had a serious discussion about the merits of photography in the middle of David La Chappelle's show because I'm still not entirely able to accept photography as fine art. To me the multiples aspect is not even part of the problem; the trouble is simply about what makes an object art. I think art is filtered through an individual -- I have this idea of the heroic artist exploring and returning with an artifact. Photography always always always seems to me to be documentary: This happened at this moment in time. Even a staged photo is a photo of a real event; even a Photoshopped photo is put together from real things.

I've argued this before and I will again, in much more detail, when I get around to writing up my review of the show. But basically I understand the reluctance of collectors. And then setting aside the question of artistic value, there are the problems with longevity (are we really sure a C-print will last more than a hundred years?) and multiples. There are a lot of questions.

And you know, Ed, there are plenty of people who won't accept video art, either. Myself included, but you know that. I think it's all still very new -- painting's been around for almost a hundred thousand years and we've had video for thirty or so. It's going to be a while before it catches up.

3/29/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

Speaking as a video artist, I have to say that it is indeed a market ploy to try to make videos valuable in the same way as a painting or sculpture. Like photographers, we impose editions, we offer "certificates of authenticity" to collectors, we distinguish between artist prints and prints for sale.

The un-market value of video lies in what the medium can offer: moving images, juxtaposition of images, time-based revelation of meaning, flexible structures (narrative or loop), just to name a few unique qualities.

I'm surprsed to read that an art enthusiast can still consider video and photography to be less "heroic" than other media. Aside from the fact that both video and photography involve choice and intention, a goal and great value of contemporary art is not its individual feat, but its capacity to be a reflection of our times.

3/29/2007 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I recall an editorial in Photography Magazine in the late 1970s in which the writer bemoaned the fact that photography couldn't be an art, could only be considered a craft. This after Eggleston, Arbus, Steichen --

Sometimes I get the impression that as a species we're just slow learners.

3/29/2007 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

I'm with Chris on this, photography's strength is in documentation. I think photographers passing off the staged photo as a marketable artwork is the biggest magicians trick yet. It is here to stay, but a photograph will never have the same value as a painting.

They will always be wanna be painters to me. In fact, many were before switching. The people who hail it as being as viable an artform are probably photographers with a stake in it.

3/29/2007 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Molly Stevens sez:
Aside from the fact that both video and photography involve choice and intention, a goal and great value of contemporary art is not its individual feat, but its capacity to be a reflection of our times.

Don't take this personally: I consider my lack of recognition of photography and video to be a flaw I can't get rid of. Well, photography anyway. I've yet to see video art I could consider art at all. But anyway don't take it personally; I don't want my word to be law or anything. It's just my feeling.

I don't think choice or intention characterize art. The fact that the photographer or...videographer?...the fact that the author makes choices or intends something in the final work, to me, has zero to do with whether or not it's art. It's got to do with where the interest in a given work comes from, what makes them worth looking at. And I think I've never seen a photograph that didn't draw most of its interest, not from the choices or intent of the photographer, but from its subject and its subject's state at a given moment in time. So the photographer chooses the subject. So what? It's still the subject that comes through, not the photographer. At best a photographer is a medium, transmitting the subject to us with some distortion along the way.

Video doesn't even have that much most of the time. I believe that sound and moving images have great capacity for affecting the emotions but I've yet to see anything classed as video art that elicited more than a "Huh." Hollywood movies are more artistic than any video art I've seen, but I don't think of movies as art quite the same way; I think of them more like modern-day cathedrals, where a large number of craftsmen from different disciplines gather together to create something larger than themselves. They're too big to have the individual heroism I consider to be art in the narrow sense I'm using it here.

As far as anything being a reflection of our times, I don't include that as being sufficient or necessary to art either. A fork or a bulldozer or a fitted sheet is a reflection of our times, too.

3/29/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think photographers passing off the staged photo as a marketable artwork is the biggest magicians trick yet. It is here to stay, but a photograph will never have the same value as a painting.

I'm actually beyond shocked to read that here. The notion that medium determines value, essentially forever, ignores all the developments in technology for any given medium.

Taking painting for example...other than its uniqueness (and photos can be unique) there's nothing at all more valuable about its process (carefully composed photos are just as difficult, time-consuming, and painstaking to create as carefully composed paintings), its materials (otherwise, there would still be more value associated with oil paint than acrylic and more value associated with murals than easel paintings, etc. etc.), or longevity (sure paper will decompose faster than linen, but back mounted on plexi and carefully conserved, a photo can now last longer than a painting).

So help me here. What exactly is it that makes a painting more valuable?

3/29/2007 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

"but a photograph will never have the same value as a painting." Perhaps I should have added --"In my world of art enjoymant" before that sentence.

That is not a global statement. Just my preference for one over the other. And as an opinion, I can't back it up with more than saying that photography always has a homogenized look when mounted and a lack of..can I call it life force or some hippy dippy term here- a painting when it is good exudes secrets and bears repeated looking. It is a constant giving object.

For me, once a photo is taken in, I do not need to return to it in person again and again.

In my humble opinion..of course.

Am I devaluing photos as a relevant art form? No, I like many photographer's. but a great painting will trump that anyday. But it does have to be great, not any 'ol painting.

In my opinion.

3/29/2007 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

BTW Ed I'm not being sarcastic by repeating in my opinion , just trying to emphasize it is my personal view on it.

3/29/2007 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed asks:
What exactly is it that makes a painting more valuable?

I just went for a short walk and this is what came to me.

I like photos. I think they're neat. I get as entranced as anyone when I see a photo showing someone's pores so deep you can fall into them, or capturing a flower at its brief moment of greatest beauty, or showing me the vortices swirling around an airplane's wingtips.

But ultimately a photo shows me something I could've seen myself. Apart from geography or time -- maybe it happened far away, or before I was born, or so quickly it's impossible to see with the naked eye -- still, a photo is of something I could've seen myself. If I stood right where the photographer did, using their equipment, I'd have seen the same thing. Note I'm not saying I could've taken the same photo: Photography is a skill and a craft, and not everyone is an equal photographer. Certainly true. But in the end, a photo is of something I could've seen for myself.

Which is what makes photos interesting and valuable. Consider pornography: What makes porn worth viewing is the idea that somewhere, at some time, this person looked like this and did these things. Someone is having great sex, even if it's not me. Someone is screwing this hot chick, even if it's not me.

But what I want from art is not to be shown something I could've seen on my own. I want to be told something new. Something I couldn't have found myself, something that didn't exist before. Something special. A communication from the depths of another human being's soul.

Setting up a bunch of people in poses and then taking a picture, that's not a communication from someone's soul. That's a management class. As Penn Jillette once wrote, when I buy a painting, I'm buying a piece of someone's fucking soul. When I buy a photo, I'm buying a reproduction of a bunch of photons bumping into a piece of plastic.

3/29/2007 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

Yeah Chris!! I am a terrible internet writer, you said it so much better. I piss people off when I write whereas you are more eloquent.

I often ask myself when standing in front of a photo in a gallery-"what does this look like to me?" ...

And the answer is usually a resounding inner voice that whispers.."someone's boring vacation photos where they asked friends to dress up or pose just so.." and here it is-in a gallery with a press release explaining and imbuing it with meaning.

Photos need a lot of hype and imbuing of meaning to impress themselves on people.

But vacation photos can be pretty too. But they'll always look like dumb vacation photos.

3/29/2007 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

Lordy, lordy. It almost doesn't seem worth going into.

Chris and Heidi, your opinions are well taken as such. But you both seem to lack a range and depth of knowledge about what photography and video can be, about how both are created.

I do understand the disdain for snapshots being lauded as art. It is discouraging, enraging.

But, have you not viewed the lights and darks of Bill Brandt, the bareness of Richard Avedon, the breadth of subject of Lee Friedlander, the introspection of Peter Campus, the impossible perspectives of Bruce Nauman, just to name a few.

3/29/2007 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

This is heading off-topic, too, but I'm going to say it anyway. One of the things that's been bugging me, the more art people I meet, is the way so many of them see these issues as settled. Like, Photography is Art, Video is Art, Conceptualism is Art, Lichtenstein and Warhol and Beuys were Artists, Appropriation is a Valid Artistic Technique. And if you challenge any of these assumptions, you're immediately dismissed as an atavistic ignoramus. Witness even Ed, that most even-keeled of commentators, who sputters, "I'm actually beyond shocked to read that here."

Beyond shocked to have your iconos clasted? Artists are supposed to be iconoclasts. Just because the new icons used to be avant garde doesn't mean they're not icons now. In my Inferno, Warhol is death and Beuys madness. Nam June Paik is sitting in a desert of flames with the other usurers. Lichtenstein is being chased and bitten by snakes.

These issues aren't settled. They never are. People are still arguing over whether Fragonard is any good.

3/29/2007 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Molly, I'll admit to being ignorant of a lot of photography, and in fact a lot of art in general. I did just see David La Chappelle, as I mentioned, and I've seen a fair amount of other shows in Chelsea this past year (2006), even though I tend to avoid photography openings.

On the other hand, I worked with Robert Farber on his Website (not with his actual photography, mind you) and through him got to know a fair number of photographers, their work, and their craft. So I'm not entirely ignorant.

I'm not casting down photography just on principle; this is just what I feel based on my experience. As I wrote, I don't dislike photography. It's cool.

3/29/2007 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

As I see it, the main issues photography must contend with are:
a. It's a multiple
b. Questions surrounding its permanence

Compare with prints and other multiples which are generally considered a separate category in the marketplace. Also, I think some works on paper are ranked lower in desirability because of permanence issues

The "is it art" question is irrelevant.

3/29/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George sez:
The "is it art" question is irrelevant.

Not if you're an art collector. If you're just a collector who loads up on any old thing, then, yes, it doesn't matter if it's art. But if your plan is to have an art collection, and a hundred years from now everyone is laughing at you because you invested all your money in something no one considers art any more, then you've wasted your time. Might as well buy baseball cards or Beanie Babies.

3/29/2007 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


The question of what can be art exploded with Duchamp. So there is no inherent reason why photographs should not be considered art and therefore no reason a priori why they should be excluded from the category of art.

Certainly one can always ask the question whether or not something is "good art", but this question can be applied across all categories of art objects, not just photography. The qualities which make something "art" are independent of the media.

3/29/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George, in case you haven't seen me rant on this yet: Please please please don't get me started on Duchamp.

You say:
The qualities which make something "art" are independent of the media.

I believe this is true in theory. But in practice, some things convey the human soul better than others. All media are not created equal, which is why we don't paint using seawater.

I have yet to be moved by a photo the way I am moved by a painting. I'm open to the idea that one day I may change my mind. It hasn't happened yet.

3/29/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I accept your experience and therefore your opinion. However, it is a personal argument which cannot be logically used to make the case for or against any medium as a work of art. Just as easily as you have a strong experience and opinion with one particular media, someone else will have a counter response. This is about preference, not any inherent limitation of photography (or whatever) as a medium. It’s not just about the medium, it’s also about what the artist does with it.

3/29/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Witness even Ed, that most even-keeled of commentators, who sputters, "I'm actually beyond shocked to read that here."

Beyond shocked to have my assumptions be so far off base Chris. Don't cry "poor me, I'm surrounded by elitists"'re closer to those you're bemoaning here than you are the rest of the nation.

But ultimately a photo shows me something I could've seen myself.

But you didn't see it yourself...that's the whole point. The Photographer saw it and captured it or set it up to capture it.

This argument (which yes, we've had before here) is like saying:

"'To be or not to be,' or 'Ask not what your country can do for you....,' I could have said those things."

Well of course you could have said them, but you didn't say them in the context for which they changed the way other people saw the world. That's what a photographer does, and that's all a painter or sculptor does as well. So if the products have the same effects, then why assign a different value to them?

some things convey the human soul better than others. All media are not created equal, which is why we don't paint using seawater

Ugh. Back to permanence as superior. That sound you hear (the repeated dull thud) is me banging my head against the desk.

3/29/2007 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

An artwork is bit of life seen through another’s eyes.

3/29/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i can see how you would come to that conclusion based on looking at and working with Robert Farber, or other such cheesy example of "art photography" - i.e. soft focus nudes etc.... but your argument is a INCREDIBLY conservative and myopic view of art. the idea that painters, and only painters or artists who work in certain mediums, create ART and they "put their soul into their work" is such a cliche and limits a broader richer understanding of art.

3/29/2007 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Suppose one has two art objects
a. A photograph of a scene.
b. A painting exactly like the photograph.

Could one argue that the painting is qualitatively better art? Why?

3/29/2007 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
So if the products have the same effects, then why assign a different value to them?

If they had the same effects, I wouldn't. What I meant when I wrote "we don't paint with seawater" wasn't intended to have anything to do with permanence (so stop banging your head against your desk) but more to do with expression. Not all substances, objects, chemicals, elements, what have you are equally good vessels for the human soul. We don't paint with seawater because a seawater painting doesn't look like much.

What I'm saying is that a photo doesn't have the same effect as a painting and probably never will. (I'm leaving myself open so I can change my mind later.) But ultimately, what makes a photo a photo, to my mind, is what limits it. A photo can only document a moment. Great moment, bad moment, whatever, it's still just a moment. A painting is more than that.

As far as "saying those things," with speeches, true, anyone can say those things. Ever hear of dramatic re-enactments? They can even say them and have it feel meaningful. That's what actors do. The art lies in writing those things, which not anyone can do. Acting is a craft. Writing is an art.

And then Anonymous sez:
...your argument is a INCREDIBLY conservative and myopic view of art.

Oh really? Because it seems to me the conservative view these days is that "anything is art" and "anyone is an artist." Duchamp entered "Fountain" into an exhibition how many years ago? That's right, just about a hundred. So for the last hundred years it's been anything goes.

I say that's crap. I say that idea has gotten us nowhere but buried under an enormous pile of worthless junk. I say admitting anyone and anything as art devalues what's truly important.

I say artists do put their soul into their work. And I say certain media are better at this than others. Note that I'm not saying we should all be academic realists working in oils.

And George, you've set up a meaningless thought experiment. No painting is exactly like a photograph. That's part of the point I'm trying to make.

3/29/2007 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Actually, it’s not such a meaningless thought experiment.

For all intents and purposes, it is possible to make a painting that looks like a photograph. Suppose one did, then can we argue that the ‘painting’ embodies evidence of the ‘human soul’ and the photograph doesn’t? Since the "images" are for all intents and purposes the same, how does this "soul" get into the painting? Are we talking about work ethic? craft? just how does the "soul" get there?

3/29/2007 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

By the way, Ed, I don't think I'm surrounded by elitists at all. I think the art world is full of people who have accepted the received wisdom and somehow think this makes them avant garde. Frank Zappa once told one of his audiences, "Everyone in this room is wearing a uniform." The art world people I've met have been handed a package of Art World Rules and they've checked them off, somehow thinking this makes them revolutionary, ahead of the curve. As if picking on Thomas Kinkade proves anything.

Anonymous up there is a perfect example: They come along, read my comments, and immediately say, "You're reactionary! Myopic! Narrow-minded!" Meanwhile they spout cliches like "only painters...create ART and they 'put their soul into their work' is such a cliche".

So I don't think I'm surrounded by elitists. If anything I'd like to see some more elitists.

3/29/2007 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Okay, George, thinking about some pencil drawings I've seen which were nearly indistinguishable from photos, I'll go along with you. I'd say a painting exactly like a photograph would be a soulless painting. A painting doesn't have to have soul in it. Plenty of what passes for art doesn't have soul in it.

3/29/2007 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not say only painters create ART or put a piece of their soul in the work, I was commenting on my interpretation of YOUR comments.

I couldn't disagree more... i felt YOU were make generalized statements about what art is supposed to be and what mediums needed to be used to create art.

you may think painting is the best. that's fine. nor do i think anything is art. but your argument against photography is not only simplistic but lacks a understanding of the medium. you are entitled to your opinions - but it just seems like a lazy argument.

3/29/2007 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

So, a painting potentially gets some "soul" when it deviates from looking like a photograph? Somehow I don’t think this is what you mean. I suspect you’re implying that "soul" is actually a quality possessed by the artist which gives him/her a special sensitivity when creating the artwork?

3/29/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I buy photos by artists not by photographers. Nobody from our time should buy a medium vis a vis art. What kind of collection is it? Not a very good one for sure... .



Soul? Hopeless romantic! Gag*^

3/29/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous BPJ said...

Photography is certainly accepted as an art form here in Atlanta - perhaps you saw the article in yesterday's NYT Museums section about the High's photo curator, and the lively collecting community here.

Photography is not the only area dealing with multiples. I collect surrealist drawings & prints. There is a spontaneous quality in the drawings which I rarely find in the prints, but I like both. With a drawing I'm less concerned about pristine condition; often the piece is an artist's way of working on an idea, and was not originally intended for sale. With an etching or lithograph, condition matters more because I'm looking for a good quality image.

Recently a photo collector friend was over at my house; when I showed him a Miro print (from the 1940s) and told him what I paid for it, he remarked that that was a very good deal compared to photography prices right now. Anyway, they're all multiples.

There is a special feeling, sometimes, when we know we are looking at a unique work of art, which we have to travel to a certain place to see. This may account for the greater reverence some feel for paintings, sculpture, or drawings. It certainly must be part of the explanation for the (typically) greater prices in such media, compared to multiples. But that does not make photographs, etchings, or lithographs somehow illegitimate as "art."

3/29/2007 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I too sense you're arguing that there's some superiority inherent in something being passed onto the canvass from the artist's hand in your argument here, Chris. Otherwise, I don't get your argument at all.

You may not like that so many other people disagree with you there, but to assert we're somehow in cahoots or brainwashed is a bit like being the one who thinks all those lunatics who say the world is round will be sorry when they fall off. Until you can prove the world is flat (or round), it's just your opinion and doesn't mean those who disagree are inferior morally or intellectually in any way. You haven't proved painting is better at conveying the human soul or said anything remotely convincing toward that end.

My defintion of art is entirely consistent with the practice of photgraphy. My very own, hard-won, personal definition. Trying to lump that in with some spoon-fed canon may make you feel better, but it hardly resonates as true or a valuable critique for me.

Honesly, sometimes a large group of people think something because they've done the work (rejected this idea, studied that idea, come to a conclusion based on their gut and intellect) to accept it's true, not because they've "accepted the received wisdom and somehow think this makes them avant garde."

You're being as instantly dismissive and offensive as you're seeming to charge anonymous as being here. In the end you can dislike photography and no one can argue, but if you're gonna place more value on some other medium, you're essentially picking a fight and you should be prepared to defend the position with more than charges of brainwashed hordes trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes.

I'm still not at all clear what gives certain materials a leg up on conveying the human soul over other materials. That doesn't seem at all logical to me given that people mix pigment and weave canvas, just as much as people build cameras and develope printing process. It's all manmade...the only possible sublime/divine/etc. part of process is what you do with those materials.

3/29/2007 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...


It is interesting that you feel that photography is cheating. I feel the same way about almost all figurative work, especially nudes

By the way, actors and musicians are artists. We call that interpretation. Putting writing and composition on a higher plane is just sort of BS. They work together.

If you want to know what it is artist/photographers do, compare the photos of different people of the same event. You will see that the soul of the photographer plays as big a role as that which is depicted.

You are working from a highly theoretical place with these comments. They read as un-necessary justification for your own output. The work is good or not. These ideas won't change that.

3/29/2007 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'll admit to being overly judgemental and dismissive to Chris, but as a photographer, I find those assertions offensive, especially when they are loosely based.

I don't think it is too far removed from the cliche of someone seeing a Rothko and Pollock and saying - that looks something like my toddler could do....

3/29/2007 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Personally, I'm happy when something I collect isn't classified as Art. The prices are lower.

For example, I collect surrealist 1930s Hollywood photography. It's not considered Art, even though many serious photographers took Hollywood jobs in the Depression. I have some wonderfully weird and surreal photographs from that era. They cost about $20, but they're great. Two of my photos in particular regularly draw gasps and the follow-up question: "Oh my God, is that a Man Ray?!"

I'm delighted that they're not considered Art. If they were, I probably couldn't afford them.

3/29/2007 06:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Good discussion.

Chris started off by talking about David LaChapelle, and Bill recalled an editorial he read which said photography could only be a craft. I find this very interesting because I just looked at the images of the LaChapelle exhibit online this morning (link here), and thought to myself, my goodness, LaChapelle has just reduced all of painting to a "craft."

(I'm exaggerating to make a point. And I'm really just thinking out loud here. Bear with me for a little while.)

I said that because of one image in particular, named "Ruth." (Image number 26 at the link above). I looked in particular at the fabric bunched up around the arm. This is the type of visual moment that Renaissance painters would have killed for. LaChapelle communicated the same feeling and texture in a photographed work that Titian or Tintoretto would have labored over. He turned Titian into a laborer.

Like I said, I'm exaggerating to make a point. I'm just trying to say that photography is arguably more of an art than painting. I find most photos completely uninteresting. It's actually hard for me to get interested in a photo. The "craft" of photography is beside the point. Either the photo's composition works or it doesn't. F-stops and photoshops and all the other things are moot. In my opinion, that's as purely "formal" as you can get.

Most photos fail in relation to paintings because they can't rely on craft to cover for an uninteresting composition. Whereas on the other hand, a crude painting gets sympathy points because the viewer can emote with the tactile evidence of activity on the canvas, emphathize with the effort the painter undertook to create the work, and marvel at the unusual vision of the person who could implement an unusual idea in two or three dimensions.

Chris followed up with a crude analogy to a certain type of extremely popular film medium. The fact is that all those types of films are going to start looking very different on HDTV. You're going to start seeing all the pimples, pores and follicles that you couldn't see on VHS.

Photography suffers from the same problem. It's very easy to show pimples, pores and follicles. The question is whether they've created good art.

Which is why when a photo actually works, it works big-time.

(Disclaimer: Or not. I'm just thinking out loud.)

3/29/2007 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

Tim-why do you think figurative work/especially nudes are cheating??

Re-reading this I pictured a swarm of gladiators coming out at Chris... everyone has bonded over the comments against his opinions.

Re-reading Ed's blog, I think the question posited was more a worry that art buyers are on the fence about photography.

As the majority posting here are artists, you have heard a lot of personal opinions on it from that viewpoint, maybe 2 collectors weighed in overall.

It is too early to say long term collector interest, as an outside viewer, but logically following the spectrum, most likely it will be more embedded in the art canon as time goes on, not less. I don't think gallery owners have anything to worry about.
But people like me and Chris are indicative of the society at large, probably quite a few will prefer a paintings intrinsic worth both on the market and personally, even if they collect other mediums too.

That is not a crime, right? Why do some of the posters feel they must change Chris's (and mine) mind on this ???

If photography, in terms of purely auction values, can ever beat that Klimt painting sale, I doubt it. But collector's will always be collecting it, why not?

3/29/2007 07:55:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

"But collector's will always be collecting it, why not?" refers to photography and that it seems it is here to stay and will grow stronger in the market as time goes on...why not, right?

Just not as strong as record breaking painting sales in auctions.

3/29/2007 08:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Geez, I go out for a bit and everyone piles on.

First up, Anon again:
I did not say only painters create ART or put a piece of their soul in the work, I was commenting on my interpretation of YOUR comments.

Reread what I wrote. What I said was, your statement claiming my statement is cliched is itself cliched. In other words, claiming that there are lots of media besides painting and sculpting which are just as good has become a cliche. I'm reviving the argument, which some consider settled, that assemblages of trash or copies of supermarket items are not, in fact, art.

Ed sez:
I too sense you're arguing that there's some superiority inherent in something being passed onto the canvass from the artist's hand in your argument here, Chris.

Yes. The artist's hand is important. If not hand, then the artist's body, connection to the materials. Things go into the artist and then back out again. Photographers bounce things off, they don't filter through. They look at a hundred images and choose one, each image being provided for them by nature. assert we're somehow in cahoots or brainwashed...

I'm not saying you're all in cahoots or all brainwashed. I mean, everyone is brainwashed. That's called culture. What I'm saying is, the idea of the avant garde is someone who is out ahead of everyone else finding new areas. That's what avant garde means. When a large number of people believe the same thing, they are, by definition, no longer avant garde. That doesn't mean they're brainwashed or in cahoots. Merely that they're part of the culture. Merely that they're not avant garde any more. And that calling me reactionary or conservative shows how little introspection they've done.

I'm not saying I'm superior because I don't like photography. I don't mean to come off like that. I started out saying this all just how I feel. I wouldn't impose my ideas on anyone else even if I could. Everyone is, naturally, entitled to their own opinion.

I've never personally heard of anyone moved by a photo the way I've heard of people being moved by a painting or a symphony. But that's just me. Which I've tried to be very, very clear about.

Tim sez:
It is interesting that you feel that photography is cheating. I feel the same way about almost all figurative work, especially nudes,

On my bad days, I wouldn't disagree with you.

By the way, actors and musicians are artists. We call that interpretation. Putting writing and composition on a higher plane is just sort of BS. They work together.

It's a different kind of art. The word art is slippery and means a lot of things. I'm being very particular with my usage right now. I mean, designing user interfaces is an art, but it's not art. Actors and musicians are artists in a way, but they're not in very specific other ways. They're not creators; they're, as you say, interpreters. They're required to channel someone else's art, but they're not artists in the sense I mean here.

Actually, what they do is closer to photography than to painting, in my way of thinking.

They read as un-necessary justification for your own output.

I disagree with you here. I'm not trying to justify anything. I've probably done more work in photography than I have in painting over the years, actually. It's just not something I take very seriously, because I can paint. Heidi up above said she thinks photographers are failed painters, and that's been my experience as well.

Certainly La Chappelle has an enormous photo which, in its staging and lighting, really wishes it was a Renaissance masterpiece.

George sez:
I suspect you’re implying that "soul" is actually a quality possessed by the artist which gives him/her a special sensitivity when creating the artwork?

Something like that. It's a complex process, to me, between an artist and their materials, where the artist's feelings, based on their absorption of external stimuli, are filtered, modified, considered, recombined, and then communicated.

How responsive the materials are, and what can be done with them, helps determine the value of the finished piece, as much as the artist.

As I wrote earlier, in theory photography can be as artistic as paint. In theory a truly great artist could create a masterpiece with dog poop and a stick. In practice, it's highly unlikely.

3/29/2007 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

You know, Henry, you're the first person here (including me, probably) to make a good point. So far all I've heard was "Any medium can be used to make art! Or course! You idiot!" While I'm saying, "Except photography! Photography sucks! You morons!"

And you come along and say:
Most photos fail in relation to paintings because they can't rely on craft to cover for an uninteresting composition.

Which is actually interesting.

I try, when looking at art, not to include "how difficult this looks" in my equation for quality. But I think it slips in there anyway. Even though I've found many things which appear difficult are, if you know how, fairly easy to do.

I do think a lot of viewers -- and me too, I guess -- will let something slide if it looks like it took some effort. That's the "my kid could do that!" school of art criticism, and on those grounds, photography loses badly. But, as you say, it shouldn't, because just because something took effort doesn't make it good.

I think part of what I'm trying to say can be illustrated, though, by that bunched-up fabric. Titian would have killed for that visual moment, as you say, Henry. And in order to get it, he (or his assistant) would've had to essentially create what is sort of a map of his personality at the moment he was painting it. Because while he was painting it, part of his being would've been focused on his goal, on getting out what was inside, of making visible that which only he could see.

Whereas that visual moment was, for La Chappelle, entirely a product of physics.

Now, of course anyone who believes that it's art when Sol LeWitt leaves instructions for a painting, or when Yves Klein sells "a zone of pictorial sensibility," or props up a little card reading "This space is cursed," anyone who believes that is art is going to believe that photography is art, too, because they don't believe that Titian's focus, his concentrating his self and his skills to make the internal external, is the very heart of art.

But I think it is.

MLS says I'm a hopeless romantic, and when it comes to art, maybe I am.

3/29/2007 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I'm easily flattered, Chris. :-)

Whereas that visual moment was, for La Chappelle, entirely a product of physics.

That may be correct, but I don't think it serves your point. The difference between LaChapelle and Titian is that Titian labored to communicate that exact same "product of physics" with his hands, whereas LaChapelle captured it with a machine. Let's not kid ourselves. Both men arranged the fabric in their studios to suit their exact needs. When his scene was to Titian's taste, he drew it and later painted it.

Let's not for a moment think Titian made up his elements from "whole cloth." Renaissance artists used models, props and technical tricks as best they could (see the machine illustrated by Durer's woodcut, Man Drawing a Lute). They practiced drawing anatomy and drapery every day, the same way a pianist practices scales. (See google images for drapery studies). I mean, they were still genetically the same human beings as us. If they had cameras they'd be no different. (I'm not even going to mention David Hockney).

Thus my (perhaps over-dramatic) comment that LaChapelle has turned Titian into a laborer. There's nothing wrong with admiring the skill of a Renaissance painter -- I'll never forget my joy and astonishment upon seeing La Fornarina in person -- but there's art in the doing, and there's art in the seeing. Even if photography is not appreciated in the doing, it can certainly still be esteemed in the seeing.

3/29/2007 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

What makes art art? It is not the media, painting, photography, etch-a-sketch, it really doesn’t matter. It really has little to do with composition, color, subject or any of that sort of art stuff. That’s all craft, what one learns to do by working with a medium. In the days when painters were considered guildsmen, composition, drawing, etc. were job requirements and obviously some were better craftsmen than others. While the great masters are considered good craftsmen, this alone is not what makes them great.

Take that ‘bunched up’ piece of fabric, LaChapelle gets it the same way Titian would, both make some kind of setup, one takes a photograph, the other paints or draws it. Just being able to paint it ‘accurately’ doesn’t necessarily make it art, nor does just capturing it on film. I had a look at the Spanish Painting exhibition at the Guggenheim a week ago. I went specifically to see a couple of Velasquez paintings. One thing I noticed is that from a distance, those old dark paintings look a lot alike. The composition and coloration are fairly similar or standardized. Up close one can see the differences better, it appeared to me that the lesser artists often tried harder, they would get the bunched up piece of fabric, just right. Yet, in every case, the Velasquez and Goya solutions were more impressive, better but not necessarily more faithful or accurate (besides how can I tell 400 years later?)

What comes through, what makes some works great art, seems to be linked more to the personality of the artist, his or her ability to will something into existence and which we can view as observers in another time and space. On the artists side, all the little things the artist does, the thousands of decisions, f-stops, brush selection, choice of mood enhancers, all add up and reveal in the artwork, the intentionality, attitude and feelings of the artist experienced in its creation. As viewers, we can experience this expression directly, it is independent from the ‘meaning’ or the ‘medium’ of the artwork. It is why Velasquez and Goya are great painters, and many others are not. I honestly don’t believe it matters at all what medium one uses, each have their strengths and weaknesses, but the success or failure of the artwork rests in the hands of the artist.

3/29/2007 11:46:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Nobody from our time should buy a medium vis a vis art.

The art I buy is still in the tube. Some assembly required.

3/30/2007 12:14:00 AM  
Anonymous life said...

people are actually having a conversation in here about whether photos are art? What f***ing century are you living in?
this is coming from a painter.what a wasted thread

3/30/2007 02:56:00 AM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

Ana Finel Honigman presents us with some of the quandaries surrounding reproducibility vs. uniqueness, photography being the easy [understandable] target [some people still haven't heard of video art]. If it's copyable can't it be infinitely... daunting for the collector who pays the price, who supports the artist , who, at some time, expects a good return, who often has made their small or big fortune out of multiples.
It leaves one flabbergasted!

3/30/2007 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

people are actually having a conversation in here about whether photos are art? What f***ing century are you living in?

You see what I mean, Ed? "It's the 21st century! Of course photos are art! You idiot!"

Listen, you asked why people might not be as willing to invest in photos as paintings, and I tried to explain why not everyone is willing (yet) to accept that photos are "real" art. You can reject my arguments if you want -- in fact I encourage you do so, because I'm a chucklehead -- but I think there are probably still collectors who feel similarly, and that accounts for some of their reluctance.

3/30/2007 07:48:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George, you and I agree up to a point, but when you say, "As viewers, we can experience this expression directly, it is independent from the ‘meaning’ or the ‘medium’ of the artwork," that's where we part ways. I don't think the expression is independent of the medium of the artwork. I think the medium is the vehicle, and different media have their own qualities for carrying expression, and some are better than others.

3/30/2007 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

Chris, what can I say, this is just for you... because I know you are not an apple person...

3/30/2007 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I recommend this post on Conscientious as supplemental reading on this thread:

3/30/2007 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Concrete Phone, how did you guess? My current PC doesn't even have QuickTime on it!

I'll get back to you on this after I find QuickTime somewhere.

3/30/2007 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Brent sez:
Chris, what can I say, this is just for you... because I know you are not an apple person...

Help! I'm trapped in one of those Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood sequences!

3/30/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

horrible boring conversation in here. Ed's site is usually better...this question ended in hmmmm 1880? wow

3/30/2007 09:05:00 PM  

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