What qualifies an image as a work of art?
A century ago the word “art” was used to identify something that was crafted by hand. Today the definition is less clear. Of course the word ‘art’ is still used to identify an art object as such. The word is also used as a label — a confirmation of competence, skill and expertise on the part of the creator; a term intended to elevate the status of an image to that of art.
The visual experience is a chain of events that starts with the artist and ends with the observer. The artist’s job ends when the image is finished. The observer then uses his or her understanding of the subject matter and/or process(es) used, to form a personal evaluation. To declare a photograph a work of art suggests that the person evaluating the work is capable of objectively analyzing it, and probably has a set of personal criteria they use as a measure, and can apply judgments based on familiarity with the subject matter and/or processes used to make the image.
This does not suggest that one must be an art critic in order to label an image ‘art.’ An understanding of the visual arts and/or how it was created, however, can result in a heightened appreciation for the piece. This sense of appreciation and understanding can result in an artful experience that might raise the status of the piece, in the mind of one observer, to the level of art.
As educated art critics can raise a work to superstar status or rip it to shreds, our families, friends, and those unfamiliar with art can also offer their evaluations. Their lack of art education or unfamiliarity with the subject or processes used to create the image, does not diminish the weight of their judgments. Often art is identified through emotion and feeling. Many different things can move us or inspire us enough to call a painting or photograph a work of art. It would be impossible to have a generally accepted convention against which a piece of visual art is measured.
We have been perfecting the art of painting since the dawn of man when we began to record our daily lives on the natural structures around us. And photography struggled for recognition as a legitimate art. Now the arguments fly about whether photography is a fine art or not. Whatever the answer to that argument, it should be remembered that language is a living thing. The meanings and definitions of descriptive words such as ‘art’ change over time. What some consider a masterpiece may, in time, reputations aside, be deemed as kitsch.
Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.