Is it Art or Not?

monalisaI love talking about fine art and the creative process with other artists. It not only helps me understand the work at hand, it also brings more clarity to my own work.

The reality is that artists throughout history have always paid close attention to their peers. In fact, the concepts and ideas of other artists are often incorporated (and improved upon) in later work. All of the masters have done this at one time or another.

That said, there’s an online discussion taking place that I found of interest. It has to with a Photoshop technique that involves turning a photograph into an image that looks like it was painted by brush. (see “How to Turn a Photo Into a Painting with Photoshop“)

The interesting question is “why would someone take a photograph and turn it into something that looks like a painting? Is it a stronger work of art as a painting or is it stronger as a photograph?”.

Fortunately art is subjective and while we may not always agree with another’s opinion, discussions like this provides insight into the creative process and interests. Everyone has an opinion about art and talking about it is a wonderful way to express our own thoughts and ideas.

Getting back to the piece under discussion though, I personally don’t see any improvement to the photograph by turning it into something that looks like a painting. My hunch is that photographers like doing this simply to elevate the importance of their photographs.

As an expressive work of art though it falls short because this piece was manipulated “to make it look like something else” without any other visual clues as to why. Can this be considered a “work of art?” Well, personally I don’t find this to be all that interesting as a piece of art.

The simple truth is that I don’t get involved in photo manipulation unless I have a solid conceptual reason to do so. It might be part of the narrative of the piece or it might be used to emphasize a feeling I’m having about it. But, manipulating a photograph to make it look like something it’s not, is really an action that needs more thought and consideration by the photographer. This piece feels phoney and artificial to me, but it certainly raises some interesting questions.

I would encourage photographers to first ask themselves if they are improving the photograph by manipulating it and if so, why is it better? Enhancing the colors or appearance of a photograph through photo manipulation doesn’t necessarily mean that the underlying image will be more meaningful. Many times manipulations like these do nothing more than produce what I call “eye candy”, an image that’s “all sugar, but no substance”. I prefer producing work that isn’t overly manipulated unless there’s a solid conceptual reason for doing so that can only be expressed by the change.