In the current issue of Better Photography, Murray White challenges us to think of our photography as more than just a record of a moment – can photography also be art?
"It has been speculated that the painting Blue Poles, residing in the National Gallery of Australia, could bring half a billion dollars if taken to auction today. It is a significant work of art, yet its creator, Jackson Pollock, squirted ordinary house paint onto linen spread on his studio floor. Gallery curators have since identified footprints across the work and found cigarette butts embedded in the medium.
"Just what does this incongruity mean? Could it be that there is abundant wealth to be made by leaving an inattentive smoker to operate the paint can shaker at Bunnings? Or did Pollock approach this work with such vision that the medium and its application become meaningless in comparison with the visual result?
"Clearly the latter explanation is more plausible, as Pollock’s artistic concept could probably have been realised using crayon on butcher’s paper – or perhaps Sharpies on cling wrap for those a little younger than me. This gifted artist created a work that expressed his vision, even though we who view the work will probably never understand its intended meaning. We all see the delightfully levitated “blue poles” amid an apparently chaotic web of colour, but we cannot identify anything resembling the real world anywhere on the canvas. So, in the absence of any other direction from its maker, we must make our own interpretation of the painting. It is ambiguous in every respect except one – it is definitely art and probably more accurately defined as abstract art.
"So, can we photographers take lessons from Blue Poles to advance our own artistic endeavours? Probably. I think that all notable artists have an individual story to tell and we can learn from their work. Pollock drew on personal experience for his art – it’s a common approach and most photographers tend to at least begin their work in a similar way. Our definitions of art vary, but I think that there are common threads which define an ‘artistic’ image.
"It would be fair to say that most viewers would assign more artistic merit to a manipulated photograph that appears fanciful, compared with a more accurate image that would be defined as realistic. The rationale behind this could be that the photographer has deliberately manipulated reality for a purpose and we should therefore value its message or its substance in a more enlightened way. This is despite the fact that we may not understand the maker’s intent, if in fact the maker was intending to reveal a concept."
So, how does that help us develop as photographers? Read the rest of Murray's approach and how you can create art rather than snaps - subscribe at www.betterphotographyeducation.com.