Art is a Conversation

Art is a conversation about social, moral, political, philosophical, history and occasionally with art itself in society. It is a conversation that has been going on for as long as people have made what we call “art”. We join that dialogue and add our voice to it along with an interpretation of the ongoing conversation and ideas being explored. Without a knowledge of how and what created this conversation as well as the topics and context of them, the risk of our work being self-referential only is high.

Having a purpose and something to say is a requirement for any work to be art, even if that references past art works or is intended only for those with an understanding of art history. How is it possible to make art that is significant without some knowledge of the dialogue that came before, the history of the media and the context in which that conversation exists?

By knowing who and how photographers that came before us brought photography into the larger art world. It isn’t through expression of self that adds to the conversation that art is. It is through adding to the conversation that art has been having for all of time with and about  philosophy, society and the ideals that make us human. The self being all important to this conversation is an indulgence that has meaning for that person but hardly relevant to much else.

Modern myth that we are all artists is bunk, no-one has that as innate ability. The potential may be there but it isn’t through technical learning or mastering a craft that makes a person an artist. It is through understanding the conversation art is and moving beyond the narcissistic self in what we make to join in that dialogue. It is curiosity that drives art, a rebellious curiosity that wonders and looks for the alternate view or personal view that relates to the art dialogue in a way that has meaning for more than just ones self. It is filtering that conversation through our unique personal experience and voice that adds to the history of the conversation. I often wonder about those so self important that they think the world should be interested in their “self expression” as art?

If what we engage in doesn’t reach beyond self how does it stand as something important enough for others to pay attention to. Follow that curiosity and the need to see something made, make something that has your point of view and voice in it. Don’t strive for profound or even unique, instead strive for something that expresses your opinion or view or curiosity or need to understand. At the risk of adding to the buzz words – be authentic, be you,  use what and who you are to stand for something. Then show me or tell me or make me as audience see, hear, feel or understand that point of view or opinion.

Photography is a in a very strange place due to it being a new media and not having the history that other forms of art has. The uses that photography is capable of other than art muddies the waters on how it is viewed as an art form. With the advent of the popular notion that everyone is an artist – this didn’t exist in previous times – there is the idea that study and understanding don’t matter to making art, that the technical of composition, line, form and such are all that something needs to be art. Photography is one of the biggest offenders of this because of the technical which makes learning to be competent a fairly painless and easy process.

Books can tell you the settings etc or how to process an image but in doing so they short cut the learning of so much more the older forms of visual arts taught during the learning it took to be competent with the technical of making something. I have heard it said that art was pervasive in everyday life in other times and this isn’t true at all, craftsmanship was and the two should not be confused. Salons, apprenticeships and a continuing discussion with other arts and artists shaped the next generation of artists as they learned how to master the craft it took to make art.

The art that shapes how we see the world isn’t made without a reference to the history of art or that ongoing dialogue and never was.

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