It's Pretty, But...
by Paul ButziThe debate about what is Art, and what is not, and the concomitant angst amongst the creative community isn’t new. It’s been around from the beginning, as the following excerpt from Kipling’s poem “The Conundrum of the Workshops” describes:
-----------When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
-----------Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
-----------And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
-----------Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”
There’s nothing wrong with discussing whether this or that is or isn’t Art. As a former philosophy student, I’m intrigued by Mike’s riddle of Schrodinger’s Art, in which the work in question is neither Art nor non-Art, until an observer interacts with the work and collapses the eigenstate. I’ve got a million things to say about Schrodinger’s Art (aka the Glue Stick), most of which boil down to my view that art is a verb, not a noun.
But as a photographer, I’m wary of this particular pastime. It’s plenty entertaining, sure, but the problem I have is that in my experience it’s not constructive. By that, I mean that asking (and answering) what Art is doesn’t seem to be an activity which helps me make more Art, or better Art, or even enjoy the process of making it more than we did before. It just increases my confusion, frustration, and self-doubt. As Kipling observed,
-----------The tale is as old as the Eden Tree—and new as the new-cut tooth—
-----------For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
-----------And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart
-----------The Devil Drum on the darkened pane—“You did it, but was it Art?”
From my personal experience worrying about whether what I’m doing is Art, or art, or just plain rubbish is one of the hurdles that keep me from rolling out of bed, throwing the camera and tripod into the car, and going out and making photographs. I agree wholeheartedly with Uwe Steinmuller, who commented “…I just go back and say I’m a photographer. If people like the photographs that is fine.” I like this statement particularly because it throws the focus onto the real core activity—making photographs.
Posted by: PAUL BUTZI