By Paul Goldfinger, Photography Editor at Blogfinger University, Blogfinger.net.
I am about to say something from left field about art appreciation, particularly regarding fine art photography. It’s been on my agenda for awhile.
In the beginning (I mean after the invention of photography, not the creation of the world) somebody took a picture of a naked woman or an apple, and then a critic showed up to judge if that’s art or what? And since then there have been many schools of photography and many ideas about the art of the photographic image. Early on, there was even a debate about whether photography could be art.
But when it comes to critics, sometimes I think they are taking us for a ride. After all, aren’t we all critics? Does one have to be a student of art appreciation to have an opinion about art? Do we really need a pretentious analysis to tell us what to like? When I saw the piece above from the exhibit “What’s Lost is Found,” I thought “Really?”
The definition of art is a matter of opinion. One dictionary has 15 definitions. For me, art happens when an artist expresses his feelings and produces a tangible result like a painting or a sculpture, or even a drawing in the sand. Then others can judge if they appreciate the result. So by this definition, we are all exposed to art every day, we all engage in art criticism, and we all can be artists.
Having said that, it is true that experts on art are more sophisticated and have more to say on the subject, and knowing about art helps inform one’s opinions, but sometimes those expert opinions seem unnecessarily elaborate and devoid of meaning for many of us.
I mostly ignore the academics and apply my own standards of beauty and significance., and so can you. Don’t be intimidated by the artsy crowd.
That brings me to an exhibit currently showing at the Birmingham Museum of Art. It’s called “What’s Lost is Found” by Lauren Henkin. She has been engaged in a project to photograph rural Alabama. Henkin said she felt “grounded in Alabama- the darkened soil acting as magnetic pull.”
Aware of being an outsider from Maine, she said, “I knew I would never be able to take ownership of the place, but I could remark on its lush landscape, its humble people, its primaries of reds, blues, and greens.” That’s how art critics and some artists talk.
Speaking about her experience in Hale County and the photographs she made while there, Henkin said, “The place itself is sacred terrain, drawing artists from near and far, trying to define a place and people that carry a history of the medium. It is a region filled with a rich complexity that cannot be explained or dissected.”
So take a look at the sample above from that Alabama exhibit, borrowed from the magazine Photograph. The experts at the magazine chose that photograph. It has been called “art,” but I don’t get it. All the artsy explanations will not convince me that this is a beautiful and/or meaningful image. On the other hand, experts have found something profound in it and they will insist that we must look at the entire exhibit in context, but I think that an image worthy of a museum show should be able to stand on its own.
Diane Arbus is a famous photographer, and I like her work very much. She is best known for her images of ordinary people and she has had exhibits at the Met in NYC. But the critics* see much more than that; they also say that she “desired to see the diviness in ordinary things.” And they add that she had “a deep and poetic understanding of space.” Below is an image from the 2016 Met show. It is called “Lady on a Bus…1957.” I like it, but “diviness” and “poetic understanding of space?”*Quotes are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art critics who commented on Arbus’ work in 2016.
THE NEVILLE BROTHERS They take art very seriously.