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August 25, 2011


I think it's a mistake to consider the "art market" or "marketability" at all in defining what is art or even "fine art". One of the distinctions Briot fails to mention is that fine art and commercial art are two different categories. A commercial artist is someone who does his work for commercial reasons; he may be hired to create images for advertising, for example, or his main purpose in creating images may be to make images that will be commercially successful (lots of stock photo sales, lots of gallery posters sold, that sort of thing). This does not exclude being featured in gallery shows; it's the intention that matters. A fine artist may also sell his work, but he doesn't create it primarily to make money from it; that he can sell it may not be merely a side effect (we all have bills to pay, after all), but it's a secondary consideration. Briot's point #11 is a step in this direction, but it's all financial considerations, not just "cost", that matter.

One can indeed disagree with some of Briot's other points. Must a composition be "complex and sophisticated"? Depends on your definitions of those terms, I suppose, but you can make fine art with an apple and a plain white background (it's been done); is that a "complex" composition? I wouldn't say so.

I would tend to agree with point #3 in general, but there are notable exceptions. Garry Winogrand has been described as an inept photographic technician, and his statement that he took photographs "to see how things look when photographed" is at odds with the more common view that one should have a definite vision in advance of how a picture will turn out, and apply one's skills to achieve that result.

With #5 and #9, again, it depends how one defines the words. Are Dorothea Lange's photos of migrant workers "merely" documentary? Do they have a "metaphorical level of meaning"? If they are just well-done social documents without metaphorical content, does that diminish their value (not in a financial sense) as art?

"If you have to read the caption to know what is in the picture, it is no good" an editor once told me. If you need artist's statements or credentials, who the photographer is or how he spared no cost, or other captions to tell you it is a good picture, you are wasting your money. The photo should stand on it's own, so look at the picture. If you like it, it is art. If you don't or don't know, save your money and buy a motorcycle or fishing boat or new dress or something else you know you like.


I also much prefer your and the commenters more "open" view over the 14-point fine art checklist. I am sure that many things have been considered "art" without fulfilling any of the criteria mentioned. And I particularly agree with Jerry Kircus that if anybody is to define whether something is art or not, it should be a viewer and not the creator.
Therefore, I would not like to describe my photographs as fine art because I think it is not up to me to "grant" this title and because I think that "photograph" is enough. I try to take photographs that I like and I am glad if a few other people do so too; irrespective of what "label" they use.

Is every oil painting considered "art?" I would guess that just about everyone that does a painting considers himself or herself as creating "art." Whether it's good or not is in the eye of the beholder. I've seen some paintings that were so bad it was hard to even appreciate the painter's creative effort. There are, of course, certain fundamental technical factors that must be mastered before the painter even gets in the ballpark of creating "art." Some artists, like Van Gogh for instance, hit the nail so squarely on the head that just about the whole world can find artistic enjoyment in one or more of his paintings.

Just because the camera has been, and is used as a documentary tool, does not render the criteria for what is "art" any different from that of a painting, in my opinion.

I would reduce the criteria for what is considered "fine art" photography to only one: It's whatever the photographer puts out there as "fine art" photography. Whether it's good, or whether it stinks up the place, is in the eye of the beholder. "Marketing" that art, however, is a whole different ballgame and involves a different set of criteria for success.


I share your point of view, Gordon.
Of course, as pointed out in previous comments, the "work of art" label is the result of a complex relationship between many elements, including marketing strategies, market trends, friendships, culture, politics, coincidence and random events.
Nonetheless, as far as the author is in control of the process (which is close to nothing), one has to follow guidelines and discipline. A work of art is hardly the result of an unaware action. In fact we are talking about a creative process which is based on craftmanship (a few artisan become artists, but every artist is a skilled artisan in the first place) and connected with a wider body of work, no matter the final result.
What made me achieve my level of success in the fine art market is a policy of low prices (for an unlimited number of prints - I don't make editions), direct marketing (I don't have intermediaries anymore; only collaborators, if any) and the choice of exhibiting my work in public spaces (as museums or fountations).
I don't do big volumes -yet- but I enjoy having a personal contact with buyers and collectors. It's a rewarding and instructive experience.

Most of the photographs made throughout the history of photography that are now considered art meet few of the qualifications listed. To be honest, I think most of the points on the checklist are bologna and have little do do with whether or not a photograph is "art," but have a lot do do with photographers wanting to be considered artists, with the status perks thereto appertaining.

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