You May Be a Photographer, but Are You an Artist?

I personally want to learn. I want to learn how other creatives think and I want to draw upon their experience. I loved this video and you can pull so much out of it despite the photographs being kinda ugly. Everyone taking photos are photographers but are they artists? That is a whole other question. Here are seven thoughts to help you become an artist.

COOPH shared a video featuring world-renowned artist Roger Ballen. Here Ballen shares seven thoughts on how to become an artist. The first thing to take away is Ballen is an artist using photography as a medium to express his artistic vision. He makes a distinction between releasing the shutter and releasing the shutter purposely. The artist has intention the photographer (broadly speaking) is just a person using a camera.

Ballen goes on to define what a good photograph is. This is a conversation which comes up again and again. It is interesting to hear a definition from a world-renowned artist. A good photograph is a photograph that never leaves your head; a good photograph embeds itself deep inside your psyche. If you understand why some photos are fleeting while others stick, you might be an artist. A very broad but also very narrow definition for sure.

Ballen also talks about definitions. How to change and redefine words. Metaphors, synonyms and juxtaposition. If you know how to use these and incorporate them in your work, you might be an artist. 

These were only the first two of seven very interesting thoughts. Check out the video above and let me hear your thoughts. Are these thoughts some you can incorporate to your genre of photography?

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Richard Meaderdes's picture


Robert Nurse's picture

Certainly not what I was expecting.

Jim Cutler's picture

Hmmmmmmm. If it's meant in the right constructive spirit then good. Be careful who you let tell you whether you are an artist or not.

Richard Meaderdes's picture

No, not a put down on his creativity as an artist/photographer! I'm just expressing my feeling after viewing the photographs. It's all good!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Neh, I'm just a pics takererererer.

Philip Philippidis's picture

Seriously? Gatekeeping?
Everyone is an artist. How good of an artist is a matter of subjective perception and cultural norms.

J Meadows's picture

I think that the defining aspect of art as opposed to craft is the ability of the artist to visually define their work by a consistent set of characteristics that are readily recognizable.
This Is determined without having to see the artists’ name to know that the work is specifically theirs.
As an example, drop a Picasso, a Warhol, an Ansel Adams and a Van Gogh on the table and I don’t think you’d have to see a signature to know who was the producer of the work.

This defining “vision” is the equivalent to your public “voice” speaking in its own unique way.
It is also a very challenging endêver and can take many years, if ever, to develop.

In my opinion it is worth the pursuit, wether you use camera, a paint brush or a piano as your “instrument of expression”, it’s what the journey of becoming an artist is all about!

Ruth Carll's picture

I understand your point and agree with you.

I also think that an artist 'makes' something that comes from their mind's eye vs records something that already exists. You can take a photograph of the something and it is just a record of the subject or you take the photograph in a way that the subject is more and/or different because of the way the photograph was taken. Making something that didn't exist before you bring it into existence is art.

Erich Schultz's picture

According to this video, I am not an artist, but thankfully art is subjective so in a way we are all artists. Personally, I would never hang any of his images, because they don't speak to me however I have seen images taken with a simple cell phone that I love and appreciate. It is all so subjective, thankfully.

Marcus Joyce's picture

It is subjective how is their a royal art collage in the UK.. does everyone leave with a degree because it's subjective?

Robert Nurse's picture

Does everyone who leaves Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc. intelligent?

Marcus Joyce's picture

You are kind of off point. I'm talking about the subject. Not those attending it.

Erich Schultz's picture

In school students are encouraged to explore their own ideas of art, and then if do so satisfactorily they graduate. If ir wasn’t subjective schools would be cranking out hundreds of Monets, etc.

Marcus Joyce's picture

Ok in any study referencing examples makes an argument stronger. If your art is being referenced by someone I don't think it's subjective any more. Your art had to make a connection with the person for them to know your name and to remember your work.

Don't get me wrong there's a whole weird industry that only arty types with their f-art-y degrees socialize.....

Robert Nurse's picture

Same here. I find it difficult to put myself in the category of "artist" because the term seems so much loftier than what I think I am. With my photography, I try to record my feelings while looking at my subject or scene. If those feelings are generated time and time again as I revisit the image and it has a similar impact on others, then I feel I'm successful. Whether or not that's art, I really don't know and probably shouldn't care.

Alan Brown's picture

Wow , that's a pretty powerful message - now I feel sooooo inadequate........

Carlos Teixeira's picture


michael butler's picture

This video represents everything I dislike about so called artists and their condescending truths about what makes real art. Anyone, and I mean anyone who describes themselves as an artist is a wanker and should be ridiculed. And these photos suck as well, taking photos of subjects who are obviously mentally handicapped is not art, it is exploitation.

Robert Nurse's picture

His work is, ummm, different.