Since photography is a branch of the visual arts, the realm of photography corresponds essentially to the entire domain of the visual arts, especially painting. Only the techniques differ. So we are left with the question: what is art?
The Oxford dictionary soberly lists some definitions: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”, “works produced by human creative skill and imagination” or “creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings, or sculpture”. But I guess we all knew that.
Maybe we would do better by listening to what recognised artists have had to say. Here are a couple from Keats: “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced” and “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections, and the truth of imagination.” Blake said, amongst many other things, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create”. And Pope “Lulled in the countless chambers of the brain, our thoughts are linked by many a hidden chain; awake but one, and what myriads rise!”
And, jumping to something more modern, here’s Picasso “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”. But what I really like is this “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.” Hmm…
The quote which best applies to me is “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”
And I think that is the kind of photographer I am. But first you have to see, really see, the “passing shape” in the banal and in the buzzing confusion of reality. And then one must allow the spark of recognition to grow and evolve in the hidden chambers of one’s mind – and then to find a way or ways of giving expression and form to the creation of one’s imagination so that others too can respond.
Luncheon in the time of the Impressionists
It is in this opening up to the clues lying in and behind overt reality and in the transformational process itself that art happens. Thus by necessity and choice the artist must respond to the world at a deeper and more intense level than the casual observer. And just beyond the horizon lies unexplored external and internal universes of possibility. It is this vision
which drives both the scientist and the artist, and the two are closer to one another than may be supposed.
We go to the great artists and scientists not only for inspiration but to help us get beyond our limitations and hold open the doors of perception for us so that we too can participate in the grandest of all human projects – discovering new universes.
And what about the myriads of others, the near great and those lost in the crowd of creative souls seeking to find meaning in a world full of hidden magic and many traps for the unwary?
These include me and my friends and thousands of others. I draw inspiration and ideas from them too. We are part of a fellowship of searchers, the fellowship of the non-famous. But that’s OK with me. It is the search that matters.