What is art?

The Encarta Dictionary defines art as…… [aart]

n (plural arts)

1. creation of beautiful things: the creation of beautiful or thought-provoking works, e.g. in painting, music, or writing

2. beautiful objects: beautiful or thought-provoking works produced through creative activity

3. branch of art: a branch or category of art, especially one of the visual arts

4. artistic skill: the skill and technique involved in producing visual representations

5. study of art: the study of a branch of the visual arts

6. creation by humans: creation by human endeavor rather than by nature

7. techniques or craft: the set of techniques used by somebody in a particular field, or the use of those techniques, such as the art of the typographer

8. ability: the skill or ability to do something well, such as the art of conversation

9. cunning: the ability to achieve things by deceitful or cunning methods (literary) or arts, npl

1. forms of creative beauty: activities enjoyed for the beauty they create or the way they present ideas, e.g. painting, music, and literature

2. nonscientific subjects: nonscientific and nontechnical subjects at school or college

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

I don’t believe that art can truly be defined. Dictionary definitions make for great starting points, but they always leave room for expansion.

In #6 of the definition of art (rather than arts), Encarta’s definition says, creation by humans or through human endeavors. I may ask, is the perfection of a Pink Lady’s Slipper flower, not art. Then it would come from nature ( Encarta’s idea of everything that is not man), or God, my idea of nature. Those of you who know me, also know I believe in giving the artistic credit for powerful photographs of wildlife to the animals themselves. Encarta, would say do to nature, I would say do to God.

Either way, the point is, art is art only as perceived by the viewer of the object (painting, photograph etc.) or of the performance (dance, singing etc.). To me, that can include subjects in nature, even as they live and breath with no creation or construction by man. In other words, in my opinion art, does not have to be made by man. We can appreciate art, that exists despite man, not only because of him.

The first time I heard somebody call one of my images art, I almost fell off my chair. I never considered them to be art or not to be, one way or the other. That is/was even after having images in a museum gallery and having a story done on me as an emerging artist. I just did what I did, come what may. Since those days, I have met or observed many photographers who define themselves as artists, and are often happy to let you know they are an artist. I guess I understand the desire ( in many the need) to be called an artist. I don’t understand the need to call oneself an artist. What if you say you are an artist and I say that I just don’t see it? Does that mean I am an idiot, or that you aren’t an artist? I suspect neither. Art is a matter of opinion, and when I show you what I believe to be art from a variety of photographers, those are my opinions. That is why I believe, that when Encarta or anybody else writes a definition of art, they are giving us a guide. They are showing us what most people in the world might answer if you asked them what is art.

It was really the work of Alfred Stieglitz that brought art critics on board to accept photography as art. In my opinion, Ansel Adams helped bring nature into the fold as an art subject for photographers. I will take it a step farther and say Galen Rowell was the initiator of color nature photography as art, or as thought of as art.  His work was hanging in the great museums of New York, when other color nature photographers were happy to sell photos in the gift shop down the street. There are “door breakers” in every field. We forget them too easily.

Under arts #2, Encarta writes that the arts are that of non-scientific subjects. Does that mean that the tools you use to create art, have to be non-scientific? Not only are cameras and lenses scientific tools, but photography itself is science. Do they mean that you cannot paint or photograph a scientific subject like the large Hadron Collider in Switzerland? How about an automobile?

It seems that the more art is defined, the fuzzier the definition becomes.

Dividing Lines

In most forms of art, there are lines that divide the school of thought on what something is. With landscape painting, one such line is called Impressionism.

Realist landscape art was an easy medium to appraise. How much did the French countryside look like the French countryside in that painting? Do not misunderstand me, the quality and individualism of a brush stroke, are glaringly obvious in a painting created in the realist style. Art is art. Just the same, the landscape changed (pun intended) when the Impressionists came on the scene.

Not the world as we see it with our eyes, yet not quite an abstraction, what is it? It’s an attempt to represent the clear reality that might be seen with your eyes, by creating an impression of it. An impression, rather than total reality. That definition is mine not that of Encarta.

French painters like Monet and Mamet, were leaders in this new way of looking at the land. Edgar Deyes, Berthe Morisot and others expanded the “new tradition” even beyond the landscape. That original Impressionism began in the 19th Century and lasted about twenty years, ending before the start of the 20th Century.

Impressionism, was revived somewhere in the mid 20th Century and survives today. You can see this discipline intertwined with the styles of many current artists, although you would not call those painters Impressionists.

Claude Monet mid 19th Century1Claude_Monet_%200011

Chriss Pagani,Oregon 20092nestuccapastel2ChrissPagani2009

I do believe in a semblance of Impressionism in photography. I am not speaking of impressionistic filters which can be applied to images via software applications, or literal impressionistic filters which can be applied to your lens, when in the field. I am speaking of a style and a feel. Some scenes under proper light lend themselves to this, and some photographers create the mood without even trying.

Of course, slow shutter speeds with either camera or subject movement are a legitimate way of making a personal Impressionistic statement while you are on location.

Trees by Carl Rubin


Birches Abstract #5B, Boquet River Headwaters, Elizabethtown, NY, c. 2007 Carl Rubino; Image made while “panning camera” in irregular motion during 1 second exposure, some image manipulation in Photoshop

Winter by Hans1H4impression_of_countryside_Hans1H

The images below are mine. I am not attempting to use them as being representative of art, but of a particular style, that being ” a form” of Impressionism. They were made in camera with no alterations. My impressionistic photographs always walk the line (there’s that line again) between Impressionism, and abstraction. They are Impressionist views of a well known reality, but they are also each a true abstraction.

Autumn reflections5DSC_0093

Sunrise reflections6DSC_7734

Water, rock, trees and sky7untitled

Ghost (Tundra) Swans8untitledt

The question is often asked, can wildlife photography be art? I’m sure most people would agree that paintings or sculptures of wild animals are art, but photography? My short answer is that if it’s art to you, than it is art. In my long answer I would suggest when it comes to my own fairly extensive personal background in wildlife photography, I look at my subjects as natural, unintended artists, and myself as the conduit to the world and the world’s  ability to see what I saw, and feel what I felt.

The question becomes, can a simple portrait such as this one of some Leaf Monkeys, be art? Does an animal image need spectacular action, or an maybe an “artful” preening display, to be art? Many would say, well the photographer has to do something special or unique for it to be art.

To me the image below is art, no matter who deserves the credit. It makes me feel like I am visiting the heart and soul of this mother and baby. In fact, I almost feel as though they are looking into mine. What more can you ask for?  Jenny Lovea shared this image on Google Plus.9JennyLovea Leaf Monkies

This Red Wolf is my own photo of a (captive) critter, just looking at the camera (or photographer). That’s a sly smile on his/her face, but not art in my opinion.10MoreSlides 052

Wildlife does show us performance art as well.

This trio of Sandhill Cranes combined with the local plant life, made art out of nothing.11CMedShillsBeav 114

The performance got more “artful” as they played ring around the grassland.12CMedShillsBeav 127

Wading birds make great artists.

Nice light, nice water and an artistic bird makes life easy on a photographer. Both are Great Egrets13

14Copy of HorF 238

I wouldn’t even pretend to be an expert, or even have any usable knowledge of sculpture. I know what I like, I know what I find interesting, and I know what I find either trite and silly (not whim-sickle, I like that), or what I find offensive.

I somewhat enjoy the “singing, ringing tree” sculpture below (the sculpture not the photo) seen at the Whispering Crane Institute. I would actually enjoy making pictures of this sculpture. Much art (I believe) could actually be created photographically to give viewers a more powerful rendition of the sculpture than this snap shot can do.15the-singing-ringing-tree-sculpture-tonkin-liu-crown-point-burnley-ukWhispering Crane Institute

I very much like the character of the wild horse statue by Maureen S. Riley. I love the muscled lines and dappled colors of the mustang. I find her work intriguing and well-worth a look.16Maureen S. Riley horse sculpture

One thing I do know, art critiques ( an artists) be damned, art is in the eye of the beholder.

One of my favorite parts of the arts ( a poet?), is writing. Books, short stories, movies, TV,song lyrics and of course my favorite The Bible. I have shared more quotes of different sorts on these pages than one could imagine. I’ve even wrote a few dozen myself (my apologies). I have shared with you many song lyrics, including entire songs. If the written and spoken word is not art, than I really don’t care about the rest. I am a very visual person, hence forth this whole photography thing, just the same, the power of the word can be amazing.

Just a couple of good quotes from some unlikely people. The art (I believe) is really in the messages more than the words with both of these quotes.

“When I was five years old my mother told me that happiness was the key to life.

When I went to school and they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote “happy”.

They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life”. Singer, songwriter John Lennon.

“ I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been asked to make the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That’s why I succeed!”. Michael Jordon.

In both cases, I believe the message is pure art.

If there’s art in our minds and hearts, then there can be art in our thoughts and wisdom..

In my opinion, art can be painstakingly and meticulously planned and agonized over, or it can  be serendipitous. Most great photographs (I believe) are pre-visualized and require no small amount of effort to bring to fruition. That having been said, great (artistic) photography can come in an immediate and fluid epiphany. You just keep composing and clicking, and you and/or your subject give birth to art.

However art might be created, I am sure glad it is. Can you even imagine a world without it. Expressing one’s inner self, is a most satisfying endeavor, and art is personal, but we have to (my opinion) make sure it isn’t selfish or better said self-indulgent.

Enjoy your day and go out and make something personal today, and then share it with the world.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its own time.

God Bless,                                                                                                                                                  Wayne


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