What Is The Purpose Of Art?

I like to try new things, to experiment. It seems I have a low boredom threshold. I like to think of this as a blessing. Maybe it’s a curse. I do know that it is why I’ve never deliberately developed a photography “style”. Oh, I may have a style, but I’ve never intentionally tried to develop one. There are a lot of articles saying you have to develop a style to standout and succeed. These articles will tell you that your style has to be different than everyone else’s but all of your images have to be in the same style. The intent is that when someone looks at the image they know it yours.  Well I’m not buying that argument.  I think we need to be more concerned about what is the purpose of art.

My Goal

I don’t want anyone to like an image because they know its mine. I want them to like an image because it “speaks” to them and it would speak to them no matter whose name is on it. There are a lot of photographers with a very definitive style. While their images individually are very good, collectively after viewing a few it becomes, well, boring.  If you look at the About page, I write “I hope that you like my photos; I am okay with it if you dislike them; I just hope I never bore you.” I truly mean that.

The profile photo on the About page is the original version of my photo Misaligned.  Trying to judge it as objectively as I can I have to say I think it is a really, really okay shot. It’s not a great shot, it’s an okay shot. As portraits go, this is a mugshot. While it is technically well done it lacks emotion and personality. It works as a profile shot but for any other purpose it is, sad to say, uninspiring.

What I Did

what is the purpose of art
(Click to enlarge/purchase)

This started me thinking about personality and how we are perceived. As a result, I reworked the photo as shown here. The way I described the underlying concept for this image is:
We all develop a particular persona for how we want a particular group of people or an individual to see us. One for our loved ones; one for our co-workers; one for our friends; and, one for strangers. Each persona is constructed with different layers of our true self and how we want to be viewed. Constantly changing, sometimes these layers of truth and fabrication just don’t line up quite like we expected. Perhaps that’s when we reveal our true selves. After all, we are a mixture of contradictions, inconsistencies, insecurities and emotions; the things that make us human.

My intent was to convey the spirit of the above commentary. I wanted to make this image something more than just a profile picture; something more than just documentary in nature. Basically I wanted to make the viewer think about the concept beyond the image.

But Is It Art?  What Is The Purpose Of Art?

I’ve always thought of there being 3 types of photography. These are just my perceptions and I admit they are gross generalizations. I’m not an academic nor a professional photographer and haven’t studied art or even photography per se. They are just my observations.  These 3 types as I see it are:

  1. Documentary – photos meant to record a scene as it was. This includes street photography, journalism photography, and even things like family photos and vacation photos.
  2. Eye Candy –  photos to be enjoyed as pretty pictures without necessarily involving deep viewer engagement or provoking thought or emotional reaction. For example, a beautiful landscape photo might be eye candy.
  3. Art – photos that are meant to deeply engage the viewer. We want the viewer to think about the meaning of the photo; to have an emotional reaction; to want to look more closely and critically at the photo, all regardless of whether or not they actually like the photo.

Arguably, a well made photo may often exist as more than just one of the types. For example, many journalistic photos may also deeply engage the viewer. Think Robert Capa’s The Falling Soldier. Life is messy and not everything can be categorized perfectly. I offer this as simply a starting point for discussion.

Did I Succeed?

Based on the intent and my understanding of the types or photos I would certainly call this an Art photo. But would others agree? I posted Misaligned on another site and received an especially interesting comment:
“Originally postprocessed…but this interesting face has been destroyed by your editing in my opinion”

When I read this my immediate response was – Hot damn, I nailed it!  This is despite the fact that they didn’t like what I’d done.  They didn’t like it but they certainly weren’t bored. That’s what I want in my images. I’m not out just to make pretty pictures.  I want you to have an emotional response when you see my images.  Good or bad,  I want you to feel something.  After all, isn’t that the purpose of art?

Or Did I Fail?

The more you think about someone’s response to your images the seeds of doubt begin to germinate. Maybe they think all photos should be documentary in nature. Perhaps they were expecting some eye candy (although it difficult to imagine anyone would consider a portrait of me as eye candy). The fact that it affected them strongly enough to be willing to comment seems to indicate I’ve succeeded. I’m been around long enough to know that you can’t control how people think or feel. You can only present something in a manner that will hopefully make them think about the meaning and have an emotional reaction. So for me, I’m counting that person’s comment a success even though they didn’t like the image.

It bears repeating. I hope that you like my photos; I am okay with it if you dislike them; I just hope I never bore you.  If you want to call that my style; I can live with that.

Do you believe we should have a definitive style in our photography?

What reaction are you looking for with your images?

What do think the purpose of art is? Please leave a comment in the comment box below.

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