Musings on Photography

The real questions

Posted in the art world by Paul Butzi on February 16, 2010


Ok, I admit that when the discussion turns to the question “Is it Art” I get rapidly confused.

The consensus on the internet, now that everyone has finished gawking in enchanted wonder at it, seems to be that Michael Paul Smith’s photographs are NOT art. Amazing stuff, I thought.

I confess I am not sure why Smith’s photographs of carefully arranged scenes are NOT art, but Jeff Wall’s photographs of carefully arranged scenes are most definitely Art, and Elisabeth Bernstein’s wonderful “Scapes” are Art.

Box score: photographs of arranged scenes NOT art: 1, photographs of arranged scenes IS art: 2. Go figure. Cynical bastard that I am, I suspect in my heart of hearts that the answers here have a lot to do with whether the work is being sold in galleries or not.

The lesson I take away, here, is that when someone starts discussing the question “Is it Art”, we should immediately ask the following four questions:

  1. Where the hell did I put the camera?
  2. Which way do I point the camera?
  3. When do I do the shutter?
  4. Is that annoying person still yammering about “Is it Art”? If so, return to question 2.

6 Responses

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  1. Don said, on February 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I read a number of photoblogs everyday (yeah I don’t have a life) and I get sick of the the whining, bitching, arguments that I see when this subject pops up.

    Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the Beerholder.

  2. adam said, on February 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    I couldn’t have said it better!
    Art, after all, is what hits you in the gut.
    Now try to define that one.

  3. Juha Haataja said, on February 17, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Well written.

    And whetever the photograph here is, in any case it is good.

  4. Paul Butzi said, on February 17, 2010 at 8:14 am

    The subject of the photo is one of the woven plastic tarps that are ubiquitous worldwide (at least, I’ve seen them everywhere I’ve traveled). Usually they’re blue, so I think of them as UBTs (Ubiquitous Blue Tarps), but I usually splurge and buy the ones with a brown coating one one side, which are often this unusual bilious green on the inside, especially if they’ve been left outdoors and have faded a bit.

    This one got left out last fall, had leaves fall on it, and has gathered up rainwater.

  5. Paul said, on February 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    It appears to be a lot of damn hard work making those lovely little macro scenes, my impression is Mr Smith doesn´t have time to worry about it being Art or not. He just gets on and does it!!
    I was amazed by quite a few comments like, “Some people know what art is when they see it, and some people don’t.” I dislike pretentious comments like this one. What happened to such things as different tastes? Our family background,our daily activity, and our experiences are so personal, one cannot pretend to make a unified law on what is what isn´t Art
    On the other hand I appreciated Mike Johnston essay “The Marvelous Journey” as he managed to enhance a very tiresome subject although I don´t agree with it all.

  6. Ed Richards said, on February 18, 2010 at 7:01 pm


    Your email is over quota and bouncing mail.

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