I can remember when there was argument as to whether paintings done in acrylic paints could be considered 'fine art.' I remember hearing it said that only paintings done in watercolors and oils were considered worthy enough for serious collectors. Funny thing, when watercolor first came around, it was used as a sketching medium before the 'real' work was done in oils. After all, watercolors because of their very nature aren't nearly as archival as either oils or acrylics. Oh, but let's go back a few centuries and discuss paint that used egg as a binder and was applied on fresh plaster. Turns out those ancient frescoes had real staying power over time. And we all can agree those works are 'fine art.' Then came photography.
I grew up with a grandfather who painted in oils. He loved to paint seascapes and California mission buildings as well as other subjects. Until me, no one in my family was really into photography except for family photos.
It wasn't until I began working as a newspaper reporter back in the day that I really got interested in what a camera could produce. Of course it was all actual rolls of film and darkrooms. It was limited for me due to expense and I didn't have my own darkroom. I was impatient because you had to wait to get the film developed to really know if you'd captured anything. Then came digital and I fell head over heels in love. My camera now is the Olympus OM-D EM-5. In fact I wrote about this joy of joys in July of last year with a post titled "The inexplicable Joy of enjoying your work."
I'm just going to say it right out loud [as it were]:
PHOTOGRAPHY IS A FINE ART MEDIUM
How can this be argued otherwise? Those who do, have they never seen the work of Ansel Adams? Some years ago the senior software engineering guy and I went on a journey and as part of it visited Yosemite National Park. There was a showing of some of Adams' work and I have to tell you, it is stunning. And what about Alfred Stieglitz? I found a wonderful essay about Stieglitz and his work written by Lisa Hostetler, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In it she writes, "...Alfred Stieglitz returned to New York in 1890 determined to prove that photography was a medium as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture...."
***okay, here's an aside: snobby fine art 'purists' will argue that photography can't be 'fine art' because there is no "original." I can understand their thinking yet not agree. When I do a mosaic or a painting, what is produced is the 'thing' itself. For more than one person to enjoy the image it has to be reproduced photographically as a print. Okay, so then you have the 'original' work and then reproductions. Well, in a manner of thinking, photography is the same. Back with film, the 'original' was the image as captured on the film/negative. To enjoy the image you had to make print reproductions. With digital, the 'original' is the file...the very first iteration of the image. To enjoy that image, you open the file; for others to also enjoy the file, you make file copies or print reproductions. There, I've had my say.
I found a couple of good discussions about this topic. One is an article titled "Photography: is it art?" by Michael Prodger at The Guardian. His article talked about an exhibition at London's National Gallery that ran October 2012 to January of this year - Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present. What I noted was this in the article: "...What some pioneering photographers recognized straight away was that photographs, like paintings, are artificially constructed portrayals: they too had to be carefully composed, lit and produced...."
Another article I discovered was written by contributing writer Kathryn Tully at Forbes.com titled, "The Steady Rise of Fine Art Photography." Her article has an emphasis on the art collector and the value of photographs as collectible fine art. I like this:
"...But can the gap between fine art photography and the rest of the fine art market ever be fully closed? Arthur Goldberg, a major US collector of contemporary photography for the last 40 years, said that it was up to history to decide if there should be equality between the two when he spoke at the Artelligence conference in New York a few months back. However, he thought that buying photography was a real opportunity to own great art at a lower price. 'Great art is great art,' he said, 'whatever the medium....'"
It is my hope that there will come a day when there will be no 'gaps' between fine art and the rest...and will embrace not only photography but digital art. As a mosaic artist I know that that there still exists a resistance to seeing fine art mosaic as just that: fine art.
Now here's a thought: can jewelry be fine art? Or will jewelry be always considered 'craft' no matter how fine it is? What about fiber arts? I've seen art works whose media were thread and cloth that deserve their spot next to oil paintings and sculpture. What are your thoughts on this?