Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Art is Like Smoking

Art is a bit like smoking. As a non-smoker you wonder what the other guys sees in it. Don't they realise they are shortening their lives! You so wish the penny would drop and they could begin to enjoy life without cigarettes. When the penny does drop and you discover you don't cough in the morning and you don't need a Vindaloo to be able to taste your food. You realise what you have been missing. Discovering Art is a similar mind expanding experience, you feel so sorry for those who have yet to see the light. Just as it is impossible to convince a smoker through rational debate that they should give up. So it is impossible to convince the unenlightened that they should try to understand Art.

I have been a photographer for best part of 50 years. I enjoy all aspects of the medium but my preferences are towards what is grudgingly described in photographic circles as “Fine Art Photographs”. It was only when I started on an Art Foundation course and began to study the “history of art” that I realised what it was that attracted me to this genera of photography. It also made me consider more openly the visual angst of modern or contemporary photography.

I am tempted to argue the case for contemporary photography further but I suspect that Mr Joe Soaps mind is not susceptible to change just yet. I would rather that he saw the light himself, put his prejudices to one side, opened his mind and discovered the enlightenment that awaits him. Just as the hardened smoker must.

I will offer an emolument to Mr Soap by saying that I find art speak, erudite, facile, pretentious and exasperating. But you should not allow the Brian Sewells of this world to close your mind. You need to see past the misconceptions of what Art is all about and be prepared to be uncomfortable whilst your mind opens and expands enough to start enjoying the challenge of appreciating Art. It probably will not help but it may be worth considering that many artists who broke the mould where ridiculed and misunderstood at the time. The Expressionists for example, people queue around the block to view their works today. In their day they were just looked upon as a bunch of sex crazed, boozed up, angst ridden weirdo's. (Why am I thinking Amy Winehouse)? Similarly Dorothea Lange’s work was looked upon with distain by the critics when first presented to the public. Today it is now appreciated for both its documentary and artistic qualities.

It is my impression over my 50 years as a photographer that most photographers have a very superficial view of both the history and the aesthetic of photography. And zero knowledge of the history of art and the influence the invention of photography had on the development of art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are more concerned by the hardware and the technology. The image for many is almost a bi-product of the process.

What is Art? Well that's a subject for another day!

Painting: Vincent van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette

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