Is Photography Really Considered Art?

Is Photography Really Considered Art?

This is a question we hear being asked more and more nowadays. And before anyone starts to react violently, rest assured that the answer is yes. It is, of course, a valid art form and we will not dwell any more on that question.Instead, let's try and understand why there is even any doubt on the matter. Let's try and explore the possible reasons why people do not so easily understand the validity of photography as art. 

Believe it or not, we have technology to thank for this. While much of the innovation and advancement in photography can be attributed to the constant growth of new technology, we have to admit that the same phenomenon is to blame for the doubt and the under-appreciation of photography as art. 

Several decades ago, photography was probably only 1% of how available it is now. Photography and the technology of cameras was such a luxury for a good fraction of the past that only wealthy people had cameras and they were only used for special purposes and occasions. In the latter part of the 20th century, photography became more available through the 35mm format film which later lead to instant cameras and of course, the emergence of digital photography. In a matter of a couple of decades we've gotten to where we are now. 

Where we are now is a time in which most people readily have a camera in their pocket everywhere they go. Yes, even the bathroom. The advancements in technology made it possible for everyone to own a camera and have it with them at all times. This allowed the art form of photography to become something so casual. People photograph literally anything and everything and that diluted the pool. For us photographers who use our cameras to produce art, we are pretty much swimming in a sea of digital noise trying to keep our boats floating. This really is not anything new but what allowed for this to happen is the fact that the change was rather drastic. 

Drawing, sketching, and painting have been generally accepted as art forms. We never see or hear anyone questioning the validity of that. Why? Because as young kids, we were taught this in art class. Children as young as 2 years are encouraged to take crayons and draw whatever they like and their parents would even post those drawings on their walls or on the fridge. This is why we've all been programed not to question that art form and no matter how simple and silly the kids' drawings are, it never lead us to doubt that what Da Vinci, Picasso, and all their friends are doing is indeed art. 

So yes, photography is and will always be a form of art and we should celebrate that. The challenge lies in the fact that as the means of creating a photograph is becoming more and more casual, we have to rise above all the noise for our work to stand out. On top of knowing the strategies of social media and having your work mounted on gallery walls, it is the impact that our photographs make that will give it any form of significance. 

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37 Comments

Will Murray's picture

Photography *can* be, and sometimes is, art. However, in many cases it's applied, such as real estate, insurance, art/document reproduction, and crime scene. One would assume the masses of memory images broadly fall into this category.

Of course, anything *can* be art, in the same way that a signed and hung urinal is art. Hence, an exhibition of crime scene photography becomes art by virtue of having been hung and viewed.

Incidentally, you don't appear to have made out your thesis statement.

The article also says: “Drawing, sketching, and painting have been generally accepted as art forms”
You can also say: “However, in many cases it's applied, such as facial composites, design sketches, scientific observations, illustrations, advertising”.
It’s not about what it *can* be, it’s about the difference in (general) acceptance as artform.

Will Murray's picture

Then it's a non-question, photography is hung in galleries and museums, and auctioned as art.

So what was the bloody point?

If we’d all agree on the definition of art and it was set in stone it would be a non-question.
It’s about intersubjectivity and the reasons shared perceptions change through time because of technological changes and innovations.

Can you restate that with smaller words!? ;-)

Will Murray's picture

That awkward moment...

I would add that because photography is extensively used in scientific, utilitarian, and other "clinical" (for lack of a better word) ways it is easy to see why people might not always see photography strictly as art. Photography bleeds into other areas which are about as far removed from what we traditionally think of as art as you can get.

I love both art and science so for me photography satisfies both.

Christian Lainesse's picture

Is "writing" an art? Anyone can write, just as anyone can take a photo. However, there are a lot of ifs, ands and buts involved.

I know it’s semantics, but If we talk about painting as an artform we’re not talking about the practice of applying paint to a wall, door, sealing or floor like a house painter does.
It’s the same with writing, the ability to write words on a piece of paper is not the same as writing poetry or prose.
And it’s the same with photography, the ability to use a camera is not the artform.
The difference between photography and painting or writing is that a lot of people think there is little or no art in photography.

Matt Williams's picture

I would argue a lot of people think they can write - they just don't put in the effort. Whereas it's fairly effortless to snap a picture and pretend like you are a photographer. Writing is very often taken for granted as an art form, just as photography.

Matt Williams's picture

Writing is definitely an art (but I'm a screenwriter so maybe biased). But your point is solid and analogous - both are things people do regularly and they are not always art (in fact, I'd say most of the time they are not). Emails, texts, internet comments... all writing, definitely not art. But novels, poetry, screenwriting? Definitely art.

michaeljin's picture

Photography can be an artistic endeavor. It is not always one. Much depends on the intent with which it is being practiced.

Marcus Joyce's picture

Perhaps it should be rephrased. Photography is valuable and you should learn to own and value your photos.

As pointed out the wide availability of cameras means people can take a photo of anything anywhere and as such loses value, or rather lost our mindset to value it.

I am beginning to believe it doesn't matter what we take photos of toda, so long as they are taken, because tomorrow or 100 years from now what we took a photo of won't exist or greatly changed somehow.

Will Murray's picture

I take photos in the context of my work all the time; they have economic value but zero aesthetic value.

Marcus Joyce's picture

A lot of photos today have high aesthetic values if you contribute likes as a measure but their economic value as a photo is 0.

But in 100+ years time the value may increase. If climate change, natural disaster or war changed the landscape of what was in those photos. Maybe not a moniteary value but historical...

Just today we look at nostalgia pictures of old buildings, petrol pumps, signage, kitchens etc. All very ordinary and domestic when the photo was taken.

James Friesen's picture

It, in and of itself, is a craft. In performing and perfecting the craft, there is an "art" in the process. And the results can be "Art" in the traditional sense if that's the intention. But it's also true in a different, deeper sense that anything can be art- if and how it's observed. The other thing is that people also have a tendency to exclude something from being art simply based on that thing being of poor quality. If someone bad at taking photos puts a bad photo up on a wall intending for others to see it as an art piece, just call it bad art. The idea that only good art is really art is counter-productive to meaningful art criticism.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

is craft done by tradesmen

Dan Grayum's picture

If anyone thinks photography is not art, they can tell that to the elf that lives in my camera. He draws whatever I point my camera at and saves it on the SD card.

Except when I move the camera too much. He must get dizzy because the image becomes blurry.

It would seem the solution to this art or not-art paradox is actually found in quantum physics - please see Schrodinger's cat with an expansion by Wang, et al.

Anything can be art. DuChamp proved that long ago with a urinal as art. Of course, not everyone agrees with that, but when do all people agree on something?

Ansel Spear's picture

Ah, underwhelming to say the least. That was considerably more lightweight than I was anticipating. What age group is the article aimed at?

Daniel Sandvik's picture

TLDR: Yes.

It’s just ‘considered’, not ‘considered as’.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

You’re right. Thanks!

Alex Yakimov's picture

Is photography an art discussion evokes brilliant work of Susan Sontag "On photography", which gives a thorough analysis. She argues that taking a picture doesn't require artificer as in painting and thus the difficulty to call it art per se. She concludes that photography is a medium.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

That’s a great point

I wonder - “Who are the self-appointed high priests of ‘culture’ who consider themselves qualified to decree for everyone else what is and isn’t art”?

Ansel Spear's picture

My thoughts exactly.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

It is surprising but they’re all over the internet. Haha

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