Ask the Art Prof: Is Photography Art?

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Robert Mapplethorpe


“What is your perspective on photography being “art” ? What makes photography art if so?”

Photography can absolutely be an art form.  As far as I see it, photography is simply another medium, like painting or sculpture or film, with which one can create visual images.  Every time a new medium comes along there’s always a period of questioning whether or not that new medium can be classified as being “art”. For a long time, monoprints were not considered to be a true form of printmaking, and people are still trying to figure out right now where digital media is going in terms of being considered an art form.

The distinction I’d like to make here is that in my opinion, there is no visual medium that exists that is inherently art, all the time.  After all, if that were the case, everything that is visual in the world would be deemed a work of art.  Photography has a massive range of applications, and there are certainly numerous uses of photography that I would not consider to be art. This is the way it is with any other visual medium; just because something is visual does not mean that it is necessarily a work of art.

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Nan Goldin

So the question becomes, where do you draw the line on what photographs are art and which are not?  There are the obvious extremes with photography:  you have fine art photographers like Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, and Nan Goldin, while on the other side of spectrum you have casual snapshots of someone’s baby taken on an iPhone. Then of course there are the millions of options in between those extremes, a lot of which are quite difficult or impossible to classify. Even the top names in fine art photography have been controversial in terms of what their work has been classified as:  both Robert Mapplethorpe and Sally Mann have created images that were trying for many audiences, and thus challenged by many as works of art.

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Sally Mann

In general, I don’t like to stamp things with a label declaring them as art or not, as there are far too many examples that blur many boundaries. Naturally, there will never be a perfect consensus of exactly which specific photographs are works of art.  I think it’s a case by case basis that you have to determine by your own personal set of standards for what makes a work of art.


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3 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: Is Photography Art?

  1. I accept photography as art. It is that connection between the scene and the photographer which separates that which evokes an emotional response and the type of material which can bore most of us to tears. In my mind, there is no difference whether we are talking sculptors, painters or photographers… a great work of art makes us want to look closer at what is being presented. An artist knows great subject matter when they see it.

    To put paid to the question of whether photography is art or not, I present Edward Burtynsky: http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/ 🙂

  2. Hellos, Thank you so much for answering my question. I appreciate your time in doing so : ) Have a wonderful day. God Bless

  3. Pingback: Is photography art? | Mark Winter Art Expert

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