Is Photography Art? The Eternal Debate
For decades, art enthusiasts and critics alike have debated whether photography can or should be considered an art form. Is photography art? If it’s not art, under what umbrella title can it be categorized?
To present a reasonable answer, let’s explore the definition of art. According to Merriam-Webster, art is defined as the “conscious use of skill and creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” In simple terms, a work of art is something that is produced with artistic intent, or for the purpose of decorating an area.
Is It Art, or Not?
If we accept this definition, photography can be an artistic endeavor. Of course, not all photography is art, but when photos are taken in an effort to make a statement or provide a decorative element, the title of art is fair.
Famous photographers like Dorthea Lange, Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Gerda Taro, Walker Evans, Anne Geddes, Mary Ellen Mark, and Vivian Maier have been a testament to the argument in favor of calling photography an art form. As individuals who have captured some of the world’s most famous pictures, these artists have preserved history from the eyes of those most affected by current events.
However, plenty of people still argue that photography is not an art form, and one of the key reasons given is that photography simply captures a moment in time. What about paintings that do the same thing? Is a still-life painting not art? Most anyone would argue that it is, and in addition, photography can do far more than capture a moment in time.
Photography can be used to make a statement. The photographer’s work with lighting and angles can change the tone of the image. Photographs can capture feeling, beauty, and expression.
Another argument presented is that photography uses a tool (the camera) to copy an image. Yet, many art forms use tools in today’s world. Architects use computer programs to plan their latest projects, authors use computers to record colorful pieces of writing that describe true events, and musicians use synthesizers and other pieces of software to create certain sounds.
Unlike the examples mentioned above, though, photography is not included as one of the seven forms of art.
What Are The Seven Forms of Art?
In a classical sense, most works of art fall into one of the following seven forms. Each of the seven forms is designed to affect the person viewing, hearing, or otherwise experiencing the piece in a unique way. Let’s explore paintings, sculptures, pieces of literature, architecture, cinema, music, and theater.
Paintings are one of the most famous and long-lasting forms of art. In this medium, an artist uses various paint types to illustrate an image and/or make a statement on a surface. Usually, the surface is canvas, but painters can use walls, wood, floors, and much more as the base for a painting.
This art form involves carving, casting, or otherwise physically working a specific subject into a three-dimensional representation. Such examples include the statues that many of us see when traveling to famous locations. Sculpting can be done with a variety of mediums, like plastic, wood, clay, and bronze.
Michelangelo, Camille Claudel, Antonio Canova, Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, and Pablo Picasso are among the most famous sculptors known today.
Literature involves using written words to express an idea, tell a story, or inspire a certain thought or emotion. Writers can compose poetry, stories, novels, essays, and much more in order to express the points they’re trying to make. Literature comes in several styles and genres, including satire, horror, drama, and science fiction.
Some of the most famous literary artists of our time include Walt Whitman, John Steinbeck, Agatha Kristie, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, Maya Angelou, Neil Gaiman, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
This is the art form that goes into building both for style and functionality. It’s one thing to create a block shelter from the elements, but it’s another to create a work of art that also houses human beings and various goods. Architects create plans and compose maps for building projects small and large.
Brilliant pieces of architecture include the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, and the Chrysler Building.
Famous architects include Kengo Kuma, Eileen Gray, Antoni Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Norman Foster.
Cinema is the art form that focuses on creating movies and other films. The art of making motion pictures can include several focuses, but much of the time, this element involves the use of cameras. For example, cinematographers use camera angles, sound, visual effects, and other cinematic techniques to give a motion picture the mood the creator intends.
Quentin Tarantino, Mandy Walker, Conrad Hall, and Michael Chapman are among many famous cinematographers known throughout the world.
Using vocals and/or instruments to produce form, harmony, and expression is the basis of music. Much like cinema and literature, music comes in many forms. It can make statements about culture, religion, or the social climate, to name a few subjects. Other times, music can be fun, educational, or seemingly a hybrid of intents.
Famous musicians include Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Mozart, Amy Winehouse, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Easy E, Selena, and Lizzo.
Theater usually embodies plays and other live performances. Many of William Shakespeare’s pieces of writing were presented as plays. Phantom of the Opera, The Nutcracker, Wicked, Faust & the Devil, Mary Poppins, Cats, and Rent are among the most famous theater productions of today’s age.
William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov, Sarah Kane, Lillian Hellman, and Victor Hugo are among the many creators of famous plays that have been presented in theaters.
So Is Photography Art?
In my mind there has never been any question that photography is art. My journey with photography has been one infused with artistic intent from the first time I picked up a camera. My intention has never been to simply document the world around me, but to use my camera as a creative tool to show the world how I find and internalize natural beauty, through my own eyes, with the help of my camera.
Throughout history, many creative endeavors, including photography, often forced one to rely on the avenues presented by others, through mentorship, sponsorship or an available audience to share their art with others. Today, through our limitless access to artistic materials, information & inspiration, an artist is allowed to create freely and that, to me, is the purest form of art.