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“The Endless Debate over what is Creative Art and what is Not”

Written by Rick Trottier – RJT Images

 

It’s hard to believe, but I remember my art classes from my childhood very well, long ago though that was. I remember that they had a structure very similar to the daily structure of school. Just as in school, there were classes where I was required to master certain skills and acquire specialized knowledge, but then there were “free periods” where I could engage in whatever sensible activity I liked. Art classes followed a very similar pattern. There were forms and structures to drawing, painting, sculpting and other media that were taught and then after those lessons we could work on things of our own choice, applying what we had learned. As a child, I understood that what was being taught was important, but what was within my freedom to explore was often times more enticing. But what was interesting was that “free periods” weren’t always better than structured learning time. Some classes and lessons in both general education and the arts were deeply absorbing, but most commonly, my “free time” was something that I really enjoyed for what it was, a chance to experiment and “let it all hang out”. But even by the time I was in high school and certainly over all the years since, I have come to understand that each has its benefits and both have an essential place in how we interface with the adult world, especially as artists.

IMG_2 - Chrissy Victoria

IMG_7 - Michelle SaucierI think of those long ago lessons in art and all the learning in the artistic disciplines I have done since those times quite a lot now a days. It seems very apropos in a world that celebrates “free expression” more than ever as it pertains to what we call “Art”. The debate over what is “Art” and what is “not Art” has been raging for hundreds of years, potentially thousands of years. As each new “school of thinking” redefines trends in expression and tastes, towering arguments shake the Art World to its core as to what is truly an inspired new direction in artistry and what is simply tacky garbage. But what has NOT changed over most of the last two hundred years is the reality of what artists always do when creating their works. Whether it is Post-Modernism, Impressionism, Romanticism or Realism, the structures of artistic composition are still adhered to be artists over many generations. All that has changed is the STYLE of how artistic messages are delivered. If you look at a Kandinsky, a Jackson Pollock, a Gustave Courbet and a Picasso, their styles of painting are all quite disparate (often referred to “schools”), but how the painting is created and executed compositionally isn’t all that dissimilar. All the same compositional elements are often times to be found. It’s just that each artist has his own vehicle for delivering the meaning for the painting. What has united the Art World for many decades, possibly centuries is an adherence to strictures of craft and composition so that even when styles change so drastically, the ways that artists can measure each other’s works is by sharing a common language of how the art is structured.

 

When Photography burst on the scene in the middle 1800s, its depiction of realistic scenery and portraiture made it very attractive to the person who was interested in artistic portrayal but who lacked the skillset to paint or sculpt. As time passed and experiments were made with how prints could be developed, how lighting could influence the look of the image and how post production of print and then later digital imagery could change the appearance of the final product, photography evolved as a medium of expression. But as cameras and lighting equipment changed, film developing techniques gave way to digital technology, the same strictures that bound the Art World together kept photography speaking that same language of composition and structure. But forces at work in the outside world, cultural and technological powers, have begun to erode and now damage the edifice of artistic composition and re-open the debate as to “what is art” in ways that we have never experienced before. As has often been the case, mass production and distribution of technology has “leveled the playing field” so to speak, but in a way that has brought down the quality of the product.

IMG_16 - Krissy Leigh.jpg

IMG_13 - Ashey CharlotteIn the beginning, not all cameras were created equally, nor was that of the photography experience. The gap between professional cameras and “instant cameras” for hobbyists was great. Professional cameras were not a “one touch” experience like the early “instamatic cameras” promised. Knowing how to operate a mechanical camera required learning and a deep familiarity with the camera of your choice. And it took time and constant practice to cultivate an intimate understanding of all the details of your camera. Developing your own film was very challenging and took specialized equipment and having a space to do it. You could bring your film to any number of places that “developed” it, and for a time “one-hour photo” institutions proliferated, but the end result was left up to the people doing the developing, and it was often uninspiring. And if you shot sexier glamor of any type, many places refused to process your film. So a wide gulf between true professionals and serious hobbyists on one side of the chasm existed between dabblers and dilettantes sitting on the other side.

 

But the advancements of the digital age meant cheap, effective digital cameras could be obtained and operated by all and digital editing software could be accessed free off the internet or stolen by those with such skills. As such, photography began to spread outwards to the masses. Now camera phones have the capacity to take some impressive pictures and editing software can be had free, right from your app store. As a result, people are taking pictures at a greater rate than at any time since the advent of photography and uploading images to Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr and all many of on-line destinations where images are being cached en masse. And it is on Instagram where I see the newest battle being joined in the debate about what is Art and What is NOT.

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IMG_6 - Chrissy VictoriaA large part of the dilemma lies in that very place where trouble can often be found, a lack of knowledge amongst the people who have hordes of “cameras” in their hands. Taking the time to learn how to use a paint brush, the canvas and the paints can you a painter. You may have been born with some artistic predispositions, but until knowledge is acquired, a person is not truly a painter. Picasso may have taken all he learned in art school in directions no one could have foreseen and revolutionized how painting was done, but he still went to school and learned! A photographer can learn in a variety of ways, you don’t actually HAVE to go to school, but you still have to learn all of the ins and outs of how this school of art is done and from what I see on Instagram, a large number of people posting pics have never read any treatises in books, magazines or on-line about photography. They just take pictures and call it art. Each and every one of the Beatles learned music in one way shape or form. Some musicians take formal classes, while some learn from their peers almost like apprentices. But they still learn the craft of music. Playing a guitar backwards and plucking at the strings with a floor staple pry bar might be inventive, but it isn’t music no matter how creative it is. Therein lies the problem with the masses of “photographers” out there today. They click the shutter, so therefor they ARE. But that really isn’t the case.

 

Lighting

 

Since photography is one of the visual arts and subscribes to many of the same principles that all the other visual arts do, the guiding commandment that was pounded into me throughout my varied classes was that NOTHING MUST DISTRACT FROM THE PRIMARY COMPOSITION OF AN IMAGE. As such, appropriate lighting is essential to success and in photography, finding a balance between even lighting and dynamic use of highlights/shadows is always the Holy Grail of beautiful photography. Even lighting is a challenge because with it comes the understanding that nothing about that lighting should cause the eye to be ripped from the composition of the photograph, but at the same time flat lighting, which is lifelessness and tedium codified, has to be avoided at all costs. Constantly striving to find the middle ground where utilization of light creates mood, aids composition, highlights key elements of the subject and leads the eye towards the central focus of the image is what every true photographer works their tail off trying to achieve. But today, it seems that quality lighting techniques/principles have been abandoned for the false god of experimentation just to be” edgy” and or the equally banal need to showcase “hotness”. Time and again I see photographers allow ugly splashes of bright light to be scattered all over a model like a cook gone mad strewing crème fraiche on a pastry without thought for patterning and décor. Conversely, shadows with a geometric pattern can sometimes have an artsy look, but beyond the need to copy each other ad nauseum, I see photographers allowing shadows to infest images like scabs left over from a life-threatening pestilence. Lighting must be the engine that drives the beauty and raw power of an image and not just be an accessory with no more importance than a belt loop. Such is the case when I see photographers put a stunning model in an image and then light it like they have just simultaneously had a paralyzing stroke. Garbage lighting is garbage, whether the model is sexy and stunning or not. The problem with something like Instagram is that the people looking at the image only see the fine derriere or the pendulous bust-line. They are grossly unaware of what is missing that makes it truly art. You can package an IPA in a lovely bottle and have eye-catching labeling, but if the contents still taste like badger piss, it is likely to be badger piss. No amount of dressing it up makes the failed product any better.

IMG_5 - Nicole Ferreira

Posing the Subject

IMG_3 - Krissy LeighWhen looking at any image of a person, whether it be sculpture, painting or photograph, the eye must enter in at a point, travel along dynamic lines and then exit at another point in the composition. Those lines must have flow to them, curvilinear in nature at times, sometimes more aggressive if they are intersecting in nature. Angles and curves are a dance of geometry that pleases the eye, challenges the mind and AIDS IN CREATING A HARMONIOUS COMPOSITION. Here we are back at that overmastering commandment again. As with lighting, today’s “art” is often about highlighting something other than composition, like a body part or a crass and overly ham-handed theme that titillates rather than stimulates. Often times, the lowest and most infantile of fixations is served in the creation of a subject’s pose but even worse, the mistakes that are made are often due to a lack of understanding, aka classic ignorance. I often times see a model’s shoulder lifted so high that they obscure not just their chin, but a large portion of the face. It is a cultural construct for a girl to bring her chin and shoulder together in a coy look. Girls learn this tactic early on in life and models use it often to create an effective look, but it is the province of the photographer to direct a model and keep that overly exaggerated pose from being a faux pas. Instead, it is simply passed over because the girl is “hot” and the awkward looking pose is somehow art because the person with the camera clicked the shutter and the model is comely. Understanding what makes a pose striking and dynamic, and what doesn’t work is part of learning the craft of being an artist. Giving into the baser needs and desires of lust is also not the province of an artist. Fusing sexuality and art CAN be a part of Art. Just ask Georgia O’Keefe what patterns of anatomy inspired her paintings of flowers and how she blended natural beauty and eroticism in her canvases, for that is true artistry to seamlessly blend skillful execution of craft with brilliantly modulated voice in a composition. A lone hand of a “dude” groping the round cheek of a “chick’s” backside is just a picture and a simplistic one at that.

IMG_14 - Nicole Ferreira

Post-Production

IMG_9 - Chrissy VictoriaPossibly the most difficult subject to address in the line of “what is Art” debate is the role of and impact of post-production or digital processing/editing of an image. In many cases, this really comes down to the personal tastes of the artist and what kinds of work they like to create and no real set lines of what is acceptable and what isn’t really exist. Modeling agencies and other professional entities tend to like the images they see to be lightly edited, as do many types of advertising companies. But many commercial and corporate bodies like the highly stylized look of digitally created art and the impact it has on the eye. So, in the end, the guiding commandment of whether something detracts from the composition really does come back into play again. A clear purpose for the imagery must be set by those who desire it and the end-result must have a set of distinct criterion as to what it should look like. If a more realistic and “photographic” look is desired, then that is what the artist should and must create. But if a more creative, “digitally enhanced” effect is sought, then that is what the end-product must be. But that leads us in the end to a whole new force that has left its mark on the look of imagery and what is now being created and why those images exist.

 

Purpose

A large portion of what confuses people today about whether an image is artistically rendered or is just drek is why images are created in the first place. Social media has become one of the largest forums for image-based entertainment in world history. Pictures are created en masse, uploaded to Instagram and Facebook and the uninitiated are very often deceived as to the purpose of those images. People look at the pictures and think “what a beautiful model” or “what an audacious photographer” (although I doubt they use such finely crafted vocabulary). But a professional model should be modeling something, just as a professional photographer should be creating an image that has a reason for its existence and use. Art for art’s sake is part of the landscape of creation and making something simply to engage in the joy of creating is worthy in and of itself. But artists need to eat and pay rent and other bills and making art just to make it rarely satisfies any of those life needs. But when one scans Instagram, one gets the feeling after a while that A LOT of these “models” and “photographers” can’t be doing this for a living, their income must be coming from somewhere else because these images are people who subscribe to the creed “Let’s Shoot”! And they do shoot, and pour forth images in torrents, but to what end? Pictures are being created using dubious lighting, while heavy filters and other digital weaponry are being layered over the top of images, making them look “edgy”, but what’s the PURPOSE???? Is it just to be part of the social media popularity contest and get more likes and comments? All too often that is precisely the game as “photographers” get their badly needed sexy girl time and “models” get pictures to show the world how amazing they are. But the end result is dissolution of a medium of Art that is being worn away by the all too common tendency of people to oversaturate any market.

IMG_12 - Alex GOnce upon a time, movies were “an event”. You went to a theatre or a drive-In with friends, or the family or a date and you saw a movie in the one and only way it could be seen, where a film print was being projected onto a screen. With the advent of early Cable TV and then the Dawn of VHS, that concept began to alter as people stayed home to watch movies and went out less and less. Now, with hundreds of cable channels, Direct TV, DVDS and Blue Rays discs, internet streaming sites and Pay per View options, people are flooded with movie selections, most of them films that have been created in a “paint by numbers” approach and then rushed into the delivery mechanism pipeline, often times a product of low quality production from inception to completion and something that just isn’t very special anymore. Photography seems to be headed in that very same direction. By oversaturating a market with the chance to create and see images in torrents never before imagined, it is becoming less valuable and certainly does not hold the distinctive feeling that it once did. I often times hear young women remark what a life-affirming experience shooting at my Studio is, for it is more than just pictures to me. It is a learning opportunity, a chance to grow a sense of self and reinforce confidence while exploring elements of your personality. I always want my shoots to be something far more interesting and exciting than a selfie or a quick TF shoot where the shutter fires like a machine gun, crass lines are proffered to the model and all is soon over. I want photography to be meaningful and something truly worthwhile. But for that to happen, we cannot allow it be overwhelmed by the flood that is threatening to drown us in pictures that aren’t really Art. The Polaroid instant camera was once seen as a threat to photographers and the Art of Photography, but it never was. Polaroid prints were far different from what a professional camera could create and not everyone owned a Polaroid. Everyone seemingly has a cell phone. Was what the Polaroid created Art? In some cases it could be, it all depended on who held that camera in their hands and what their aim was. The same is true today. Much fine, lively art is being created today, but it is being swamped in a war of attrition, overrun by numbers of “photographers” creating “Art” who ranks are always replaced and ever-increasing. And as is almost always the case with humanity, the problem lies not so much in what we are doing, as why we are doing it.

IMG_8 - Nicole Ferreira


 

Managing Editor, GlamModelz Magazine I’m a Central New England photographer based out of Worcester, MA, just one hour west of Boston. I specialize in fashion and glamor commercial imagery as well portraiture of all types. My style is a blend of commercially viable work melded with artistic innovation, whether on location or in studio. I prize collaboration quite highly and am proud of the fact that most of my work displays the ideas and designs of my models as much as it does my skills, efforts and planning. Rick has published 87, articles with GlamModelz Magazine.

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GlamModelz Magazine Volume 7,Issue 3, May 2014

GlamModelz Magazines: GlamModelz Magazine Volume 7,Issue 3, May 2014

Featured in this issue: Cover Model, GlamModel:Sha’kiyla, GlamMakeup Artist:Hannah Chevrette, GlamModel:Aleccia, GlamModel:Jacqui, GlamModel:Tina Marie, GlamModel:Amanda, GlamModel:Megan Kay, Original Featured Article:Lighting Trap, GlamModel:Crystal G. GlamModel:Maira Sanchez, GlamModel:Donyelle…

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