I have to state from the beginning, this is not a “How to” article. This is not a problem solving article, in the true sense of the word, but more a philosophical one, of the type of me discussing with you about art and fine art photography, over a glass of wine, by the fireplace, on a cold winter night, or over a cup of hot coffee, depending on the taste.
Between us, I do think philosophizing now and then can solve a lot of problems and give many answers, when it comes to art and fine art photography, but that might be just me and my meditative nature when it comes to art.
So, if you want something practical, you may want to stop reading and do something else instead. Or wait for my next tutorial that I am writing now, and that I felt the need to interrupt so I can get a bit philosophical. I’ll publish the tutorial very soon, if you don’t want to miss it you can subscribe and will receive it by email. But if you want to hear me meditating about art and fine art photography, you’re welcome and I always like company in these reflective moments. So, if you’re still around, pour yourself a nice glass of wine (or hot cup of coffee) and let’s chat…
Where does ART start?
When you think and feel differently…
I think this is where art starts. I think this is when we feel the need to express ourselves, when the way we look at the world is different than how others look at it, and we see and feel this difference. That is the moment when we feel the need to show this difference to the others, we want to communicate it to them, because we are excited about what we see and feel and we need to externalize it.
Art as a way of communicating: sharing your work with others
Minor White was saying at some point that art becomes art only when you show it to the world, and even if some years ago I wouldn’t have agreed with him so full-heartedly because I was considering that an artist can make art just for himself, now I know he’s right.
Humans need to communicate. They need it even more than food.
But sometimes it is not easy to communicate. Why? Because you express yourself in a way the others don’t understand. You’ve tried to tell them different things you feel or think, you’ve used different tools to be able to explain what you feel and think, like words for instance, but they still don’t understand. They consider you different and go on with what they have to do, while you keep your ideas and wonder what is wrong with them. Or what is wrong with you that they don’t understand. But at some point you discover an artistic way to express yourself and out of the sudden, you start being understood. Most of the times you have no idea what happened and you became understood overnight. Maybe not everyone understands, maybe the ones who weren’t understanding before don’t understand now either, but some do: those who look carefully.
Which means what? In short it means that you are saved.
Your soul is saved and you don’t need to keep for yourself what you feel and see. It means you’ve found a mean of communication and you finally have a voice: your artistic voice.
How you do that practically? First you have to find a way to express yourself, which is art, and then you have to find the courage to communicate what you create, you have to break the shell and show your work to the others. And that is when, as Minor White says (have a look at the link to see some works by Minor White exhibited at MoMA), what you create becomes art. Of course not everything can be called art, but if he we think as Minor White does, what you do has to be shared with others in order to become art.
In other words, just like it takes two to tango, it also takes two (or more) so creation becomes art.Photography as a live performance
Showing our work to others is the final step in the process of creation. We need this step in order to find balance, it is like in a theater play, like a performance, when at the end the curtain falls and then you know that the play is over. This is how we know that our photograph is finished: because we know that we can finally show it to the world. It is the final act in a theater play that was the creation of this photograph. It is that moment when the theater crew is bowing in front of the public. They play their role, they say their cues, they feel and convey emotion, and now they are concluding.
It is the same in the photograph we create. We are telling the story when we are working on our photographs, we are creating this story by working with light and shadow in order to build up emotion, and when it is finished we deliver it, just like a performance in front of the public. The reaction of the public is not even as important as it is the fact that we communicated what we had to communicate, that we expressed ourselves through the piece we delivered. We are like the actors who play in front of the public, but instead of words and gestures, we work with light and shadow.
This all may sound quite philosophical, but this is what making considerations about art and fine art photography means in my opinion, to go past the obvious, and I need to become a bit philosophical in order to explain my work and what I think. I need to go deeper and not stay at the surface. This is why every element in my images has a reason of existence: subject, composition, light and shadow. This is why I feel the need to talk about my images, to explain them. I do not necessarily do this to explain my work to the others, but most of all so I can explain my work to myself. Because I am my own main critic. I am the one who knows at the end of the creation of an image if what I said was what I had in mind, if I managed to express myself by using the tools of photography.
My personal opinion about art, an opinion I built up from the moment I opened my first art book as a child, and from the moment I saw the first painting, is that if you don’t get deep so you can explain what you created and why, then you can cannot talk about art.
Art is not only about beauty; art is about ideas, emotion, deep feelings, and about interpreting all these through the prism of the vision of the artist.
Why strive for the best and push our limits
Photography for me is a need. Art is a need. It is not a passing time. It is serious. It was always like that and this is how I look at it, this is why I invest so much time in it, this is why I strive for perfection in what I do, this is why I don’t stop if every pixel in the image is still not the way I want it to be, because otherwise this image wouldn’t be me, it would be at best my camera, or my software, or my printer.
I can only express emotion in my work if everything in my image expresses the emotion the way I feel it. This is why everything has to be perfect, so I can express my emotion clearly and for the others to understand it.
I think an artist always pushes himself, to go as far as he can go in creating the most perfect representation of his vision. This is why you need craftsmanship, not for the sake of craftsmanship, not for the sake of knowing something, not for the sake of having the skills to create this or that effect in Photoshop, but because it’s the only way that you can create the most perfect representation of yourself through the image you create. Skills alone, craftsmanship alone, are useless if they are not accompanied by a strong vision of the artist.
Are artists crazy?
If you really want to get to the essence with your fine art work, you need to stick to a certain path and way of expression till you master it well enough so you can express everything with it. You need to be comfortable with your tools so you can use them efficiently in expressing your vision. This is why you need perseverance and obstinacy. This is why you need to be a little bit “crazy”, because if you were normal you most probably would have given up struggling for your art a long time ago. Maybe that is why they say about artists that they are crazy, because they are able to stick to ethereal ideas and feelings till they can interpret them and give them a shape, the shape of an object of art, the shape of themselves. They go on and on, even if maybe in the beginning what they are saying or showing seems like a foreign language to the others, they don’t lose their enthusiasm and passion till they managed to give to their feelings and ideas a form that can be understood by others. And even if they are not understood, they still go on, because they believe in their vision and because they simply can’t stop expressing themselves.
So, is this “crazy”? When you don’t understand it, it may be. And the truth is that if you don’t live it yourself, it is very difficult to fully understand how an artist thinks and works.
Do I really make art?
I don’t know if in other eyes what I do is art, it doesn’t concern me too much what others say, because what is important for me is to express myself artistically, and what I mean by artistically is not a word deprived of content, a cliché. I is that different way I feel about the world that I need to express in order to understand it. I might be getting fuzzy here, but if you don’t get fuzzy sometimes, I don’t think you can ever get to discover the essence. That is because you can only find the essence by searching different paths, by thinking outside the box, by challenging yourself and the others, not necessarily as persons, but as ideas. So considering what it represents for me, what I do is art. This is why I try to create the best final result, because this result is going to be every time myself. This is how I show respect to my vision and my emotions, which are actually what triggered the impulse to make a fine art photograph in the first place.
Writing about your work
This is one of the reasons why I ask my students to write about their images, not necessarily to tell me for instance that they wanted one area to be bright and the other to be dark and they use this and that tool to create it, but to tell me they wanted a specific area to be bright or dark because this is HOW THEY FEEL, because this is how they express their vision.
There are many ways to interpret a subject, to express yourself, and there is always a story behind everything, either you see it or not. This story is your vision, this story is what gives birth to your image and you’d better know what the story is before you start creating that image. Writing about your photography is one of the best ways so you can reveal to yourself the meaning and the story behind your image, because writing makes you think, it makes you slow down and reflect over your vision. It makes you feel your ideas more strongly.
As a conclusion on these considerations about art and fine art photography, I can only say that I hope that you enjoyed reading this article, even if it didn’t give you a practical solution to some photography related question. I like to stop from time to time and think about the more philosophical side of photography, of art in general. I think practice and practical issues can only be solved and thoroughly understood if we can also consider the theoretical and more meditative side of photography, and this stands generally, not only for photography but everywhere in life.
Making photography, making art, is just as complex as other complex act of creation, sometimes maybe even more complex, because there are never clear answers in art. The artist always searches, he always explores, he finds some answers but he is never sure if these are the only answers. So he goes on searching, exploring even more.
There is not one truth in art; there are different versions of the truth and they are all different depending from which angle we are looking.
Best 5 fine art tips to keep from this article
1/ Create art
If you feel you have to create art, then do it. Don’t wonder if you can but just do it. Creating art comes from a need you feel. Just follow it and it will become passion.
2/ Explore the meanings
Try to not stay at the surface and care only for practical matters, processing tricks or new gear and equipment, but go deep from time to time so you can find the essence of what you are doing.
3/ Be original
Be original. No matter how much you like what other artist do and how much you would want to do the same, resist. If you do what others do, you will never be yourself. You can exercise by recreating a photo or effect you like, but keep them for yourselves and only as an exercise, or simply forget them after you exercised your hand and then create work according to your vision. That is going to make you a real ARTIST and not only a good replicator.
4/ Strive for perfection
Strive for perfection in your art, just like in everything else you are doing, because giving your best self to something will make that something perfect.
5/ Show your art
And last but not least, be brave enough to show your work to others, to talk about it, to express yourself and to explain yourself, to the others and by extension to your own self.
This is what makes art: expressing yourself and explaining yourself, to you and others.
Further study resources for fine art black and white photography – Tutorials and reviews
For more tutorials about fine art black and white photography, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography and architectural photography you can visit my extended collection of Tutorials about fine art black and white photography. If you want to read even more tutorials you can also subscribe to receive all my future tutorials via email even before I publish them anywhere else.
More about how to create fine art photography, from vision till processing and the final image you can read in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, also in my video tutorial “Creating (en)Visionography – The New Fine Art Photography – Long Exposure, Architecture and Beyond” a hands-on tutorial studying fine art photography, accompanied by an eBook presenting my processing workflow.
If you want to study all this with me personally you can take a private workshop or a mentoring course with me.
Julia Anna Gospodarou – (en)Visionographer
Julia Anna Gospodarou is an architect with a Master degree, a multiple award-winning black and white fine art photographer, (en)Visionographer, author and sought-after educator, founder of (en)Visionography™ and Photography Drawing™, author of the best-selling book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography (co-author Joel Tjintjelaar), with high distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide, published internationally in numerous books and magazines, passionate about beauty and trying to spread it into the world.