In fact every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible. When all is said, it still remains entirely a matter of degree and ability. ~Edward Steichen
The only definition for art that I was able to come up with that is both unequivocally true and that also can be put to use to clearly delineate art from anything that is not art is this: art is the product of artists. This is because, in one context or another, practically any object or experience can be considered art, but not every person can be considered an artist.
Defining art as the product of artists also serves to appropriate the term to things created consciously by a human agent. As artificial intelligence advances in leaps and bounds, it may well be that machines will soon be able to manufacture artful, perhaps even creative, products, which indeed will be a spectacular technological accomplishment. But we will do well to exclude such developments from the definition of art at the outset, lest we risk losing what art is beyond mere aesthetics. Machine generated art may be indistinguishable from human made art to someone viewing it, but there is one aspect of art that no machine can ever replace: the inner experience of the artist.
I’m of the opinion that defining a thing as a work of art describes its function (at least within a given context and/or period of time) but should not be considered a value statement. I believe that there are many worthy things that are not art and that are as, or more, worthy than many great works of art. Documentary photography, for example, has been responsible for some of humanity’s greatest accomplishments, including the proliferation of information about, and awareness of, some of the pinnacles of existence and of human endeavors, both grand and terrible. Commercial photography is responsible for much of our industrial progress, our knowledge of what people and things look like even if we never get to see them in person, and much more. But why do these have to be art? It seems odd to me that many hijack the term art as a marketing label, or as an indication of elevated quality, creativity or other things, even when such things are decidedly absent, or irrelevant to the work’s intended use. When everything is art, nothing is art.
I’m of the opinion that what artists wish to express is of greater importance than the means they choose to express it with. As such, I consider such things as purity of process, tradition, or any other constraint that a photographic artist may choose to adhere to, as important to understanding the artist’s temperament, but otherwise less important than their reasons for creating their work in the first place. I am more interested in the why than the how.
Having made such statements before, I recognize that sometimes viewers may assume about my work what lawyers call, “facts not in evidence,” namely that my tolerance for what some may call “manipulation” suggests that I push the boundaries of (to borrow a term from Ansel Adams) “departure from reality” to a greater extent than I actually do.
I do, absolutely and unapologetically, create images that are departures from reality. In fact, I do not believe that any product created with the aim of representing (literally re-presenting) reality qualifies as art. The very origin of the term art is a Latin word implying something manufactured by human skill, rather than occurring naturally. But, I also wish to make clear that my departures may be far more nuanced than some may believe. I practice my work as self-expressive art, meant simply that in my images I wish to reflect a true, subjective, inner state. I unequivocally do not seek to manufacture images just for aesthetic beauty, nor to elicit emotional responses that I had not experienced at the time of making the image. And those inner states I wish to express most often are inspired by my experiences in wild places. And I do not wish for my work, or the emotions it expresses, to depart from those real experiences.
My goal of expressing my own inner states in my work, using natural beauty as a vehicle for such expression, rather than its ultimate goal, also explains the things I do not do. Images ensuing out of technological feats, such as aerial photography or renditions of the night sky that I am unable to see or relate to emotionally (at least not until after the image is made), while interesting to experience as a viewer, do not interest me as an artist. They may arouse an emotional reaction in the viewer, but they do not ensue out of an intuitive one. At least for me.
I also rarely create images in the company of others. This is because I am extremely introverted and do not experience emotions with the same depth and power when around people as I do when alone. No matter how beautiful the scene, if I feel uncomfortable, distracted, or self-conscious, I will not photograph it.
And so, although I do not presume to impose my boundaries on anyone else, nor claim that my reasons are in any way more “true” or valid than those of others, I draw my line for departing from reality at the extent that such departures distill and emphasize those aspects of an image that are conducive to the emotions I feel and wish to express, and that I hope to elicit in the viewer. The image in its aesthetic aspects, to me, serves as a conduit for real inner experiences and subjective feelings, making tangible things that otherwise will only be available to me, and offering a means of relaying them to others.
This is to clarify my own approach, and not in any way to disparage the works of others who choose to draw their lines elsewhere, or whose motivations in creating their works are different from mine. My reason for making these statements is that I find it eminently interesting to understand the motivations and choices of other artists, and I wish to encourage anyone engaged in producing expressive work to similarly think about and to articulate their own motivations in writing. As a viewer, it greatly enhances my experience of your work.