Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"What is the Difference Between Art and Fine Art Photography?"

An often asked and good question, one I contemplated allot when I was a student and am still to this day trying to figure this issue out. It is hard to define because we live in an artistic environment which attacks neat definitions and tries to destroy conceptual boundaries. So really the best I can do is give some personal reflections.

I think the Wikipedia definition is a good starting point though:
Fine art describes any art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than utility.[1] This type of art is often expressed in the production of art objects[2] using visual and performing art forms, including painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater, architecture, photography and printmaking. Schools, institutes, and other organizations still use the term to indicate a traditional perspective on the art forms, often implying an association with classic or academic art.
In my own lexicon, as both a commercial architectural and "fine art architectural" photographer, I find the first sentence of the WP definition to have some merit. Though the boundaries are certainly not distinct, in my commercial work as an architectural photographer, much of what I do is find ways to illustrate the aesthetic ideas of my clients ie interpret someone else's art. I am oftentimes trying to get into the head of my client and create images that are artistic but useful (have some utility) to them in design competitions, proposals slide shows etc. Aesthetics and illustration must be balanced lest you stray too far from your clients needs. Vice versa if you don't pay attention to aesthetics then you create boring documents, which may not "sell" your clients work well. At the far aesthetic edge of this commercial work are those clients who want me to just go out and "do what I do", which means to interpret their work aesthetically. See this Abstraction thread in my blog. To use this image again for an example- while making this image last week of the modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, my assistant remarked something like "that looks allot better than the building actually is". To which I said this is more like advertising photography than documentary". A former student of mine, he does HABS documentation and is quite good at it. Actually in all fairness the Modern Wing at AIC is an extraordinary design and photographs are hard pressed to do it justice.

An effective commercial architectural image illustrates and sells the clients creations. It is all art but different in concept and approach and intent than my personal work which when successful I refer to as my Fine Art. The fine art is intended primarily for aesthetic contemplation, though there is a visual reality to work from and oftentimes there is a descriptive intent such as trying to bring to life the spirit of a particular place. Aesthetic contemplation is a kind of utility but far more personal than public as in my commercial work. The FA work also illustrates but it is illustrating my feelings about a place as much as its visual reality, which leads me to much manipulation of tone etc that exceeds documentation. So aesthetic contemplation, strictly speaking of is role in my life has a more profound purpose and personal utility and I distinguish that as my Fine Art.

There are huge areas where my own definitions don't hold much water. For example I have been part of city public arts commission projects with fairly strict limits on subject matter. Is this commercial illustration or fine art? I have struggle to accomplish the latter while honoring the boundaries set by the city/client. Many observers of my work don't see my distinction between commercial illustration and fine art and see the commercial work equally as creative as the FA and the FA work equally as grounded in real time and place as the commercial work. Also ironically, some of my favorite FA work has come out of HABS documentation projects. For me it is a personal distinction that helps me focus on what is important in each endeavor, but not an aesthetic straight jacket.

Just some of my personal views on the subject based on my own work............and an example of the personal FA work, the upper Morada in Abiquiu. Does any of that make any sense?

1 comment:

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