Interpreting Art

Montreal Latin Quarter Art Exhibit, copyright Ellen Wilson

And what do you think?

No, no.  What do you think? 

I think it’s strange.  Great.  Abominable.  I love it! 

Throughout our knuckle dragging history we have always been fascinated with portraying the world around us.  From the caves of Lacaux, France, to the most modern of the modern embodied by the pope of pop, Andy Warhol, we have always sought as a species to render reality by what what we thought of it.

And what do we think of it?

Art can be classified into many different forms and types.  But who cares about that.  I’m not an art history major.  The question is, what does it do to us? Do for us?

Art has always:






and Irritated

I can think of many instances where art has been banned.  Or many people wanted it to be.  But why?

Because it causes uncomfortable feelings.

I am one of those non-purists who think that photography is art.  Witness the great landscapes of Ansel Adams or the studio portraiture of Annie Leibovitz.  While Adam’s photos tend to inspire through the start beauty of his black and white landscapes, Leibovitz’s photos run the emotional gamut from what they are able to accomplish.  Just in the last couple of years Leibovitz has managed to:

Irritate the Queen of England when she asked her to take off her crown for a photoshoot

Challenge our view of social and racial stereotypes with the photo of Giselle Bundchen and LeBron James gracing the the cover of Vogue

And Amuse us with the public relations campaign to withdraw a celebrity protrait that was supposedly unacceptable of Miley Cyrus

Let us keep these things in mind as we take pictures.

Do you simply point and snap hoping to capture a great image?  Or are you alert – always looking for possibilities inherent in a situation?  Obviously the last question separates good from great photos.

If you want to photograph art, you must think like an artist.  While it is fairly easy to teach people camera techniques and tricks, it is much harder teaching people point of view and composition.  Point of view is colored by your philosophy of life, and composition is portraying that point of view.

Next time you take a picture see if you can’t capture your subject’s point of view or your point of view own reflected by your subject.

Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

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21 thoughts on “Interpreting Art”

  1. Oh absolutly Photograghy is art. Some of my favorite art is done with a camera these days. I can’t believe how creative people can be with a camera. So far, I haven’t mastered it, but it is amazing.

  2. Ellen: I really like Leibovitz, actually! And I was surprised when people interpreted her Vogue cover the way they did. Reminds me of that photo on James and Harry’s site of the woman with a man’s hand covering her face, and how it was interpreted differently. (Incidentally, I saw that photo used elsewhere, and it carried the same meaning, evident in the text with the photo, that the Men intended.) But anyway.

    I really like this in your post: “Point of view is colored by your philosophy of life, and composition is portraying that point of view.” I think that applies not only to art but also writing. Well, anything really. I like your message of being conscious about what we choose to portray.

    steph’s last blog post..In Other Words

  3. I walk around viewing the world from two perspectives: words and photographic frame. Obviously, as a writer, I am always looking for the next story. However, as soon as that camera is around my neck, I’m looking for that perfect unique shot.

    My daughter is a studio photographer. She fits perfectly into your last statement. She is praised over and over again by her clients for capturing the essence of the person. Wow, I envy that!

    Is photography art? Absolutely. Actually, I am more often moved and provoked by a photograph than I am by a painting.

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Yes dear

  4. @Vered – I never thought as television as art. Interesting. I never watch it much either.

    I guess we could call pretty much anything art, and it seems everything has been called art at one time or another. What is the aesthetic criteria and who determines it?

    @Cath – Yeah, it is kinda wacky. I like it. I wondered what the guy with the hat was saying about it – I couldn’t hear.

    @Wendi – I think a lot is done with Photoshop nowadays. That is a WHOLE thing to master in and of itself.

    @Steph – I like Annie Leibovitz, too; I think she’s a great photographer. I do see why people take issue with her Bundchen/James Vogue cover. I’m not sure how I feel about it. Apparently Bundchen and James didn’t have a problem with the photo.

  5. Urban Panther,

    That first paragraph you wrote sums up the way I feel, too. Often the two blend together when I think of how to put a story together. It’s kind of like a big collage in my head.

    That’s pretty cool about your daughter.

  6. I’m pretty open-minded with art (after all, I’m a painter myself). But there is some art I have NO USE for.

    In Canada’s National Gallery (in Ottawa), I once leaned on a metal railing bolted to the wall. The guard told me to get off the “exhibit”.

    Once they had a wire frame shaped as a female torso, covered with steak. It was a “Dress of meat”.

    My favorite was a a controversial painting called “Voice of Fire”. A big white canvas, with a couple of colored stripes down the middle. That one cost several million.

    What pisses me off, is that NOBODY likes this crap (except for an elitist minority) Like the out-of-touch museum curators, who are convinced they know what’s best for the public).

    And it’s all coming out of our taxpayers’ pockets.

    Meanwhile, the people who are ACTUALLY paint and draw and sculpt, etc…remain un-noticed, and are barely eking out a living on Ebay.

    Friar’s last blog post..My Dog Basil is So Special

  7. @Barbara – Yeah, you have to get in the mindset of seeing the picture and of you taking it, not the camera. The camera won’t do the work for you, you have to that. All the camera does is capture the picture. It does what it’s told.

    @Friar – Everywhere we have politics and the art world is no different.

    And the world of art is extremely competitive – in every flavor: film, music, writing, dancing and performing. I think I covered all the bases.

    I like the steak torso – very symbolic. Of course it would stink after awhile, but maybe that’s the point.

    I like a variety of forms, ideas, and movements. The point is who decides what is popular and what is not? Nothing is entirely subjective. Everyone is colored by a certain set of biases and prejudices.

  8. @Ellen

    Who decides if something is popular? We DO!!!…by definition!

    If half the people really love an art exhibit, but the other half don’t…then it’s difficult to say if it’s actually good or not.

    But if the majority of people (say 99%) say something is crappy…chances are, it probably is.

    It’s the 99% lousy art that I think needs to go (i.e. statues of the Virgin Mary in bodily fluids, and decaying animal flesh exhibits, etc.).

    I recall they periodcally had to change the dress of meat

    …which caused the anti-poverty groups to complain about the waste of food! 🙂

    Friar’s last blog post..My Dog Basil is So Special

  9. Friar,

    Did you guys get a chance to actually vote on who liked what at the Ottawa museum?

    I liked your Viking ship on Brett’s blog, by the way. I haven’t had a chance to comment yet.

  10. Ellen, not all photography is art sometimes it is just a photo. 🙂 However those photographers who are artists are no different than gifted painters. To be able to capture an essence, inject a viewpoint and see a scene in a different way does require the eye of an artist. I could pick up a paintbrush, or camera but trust me my creation would not be art!

  11. I agree that photography is art and in fact, Annie Leibovitz is one of my favorite artists. She’s incredible! In fact, I’m off to check out the links to her stuff that you’ve included here.

    My hope is that in the next couple of years I can learn a lot more about photography. I know next to nothing other than how to point and click and then clean things up in Photoshop.

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..A is for Apple

  12. @Steph – So you saw the meat dress, too? I wish I could have see the meat dress and Voices of Fire. It all sounds pretty cool. I get bored with traditional types of art and like to see what wild stuff people can dream up. You know how I love symbolism.

    @Karen – True, not all photography is art. Some of it is just capturing everyday event’s. But some events are art. The thing that springs to mind is that woman from the depression era, and her little kids clinging to her. She had such a look of sad desperation. It was excellent! The photographer was Dorothea Lange. Very famous picture.

    C’mon, you paint yourself into too little of a picture. I’m sure you could take a good picture if you wanted.

    @AxeCity – Yes, that’s the key. We have to get the picure to look like we want it to. Not always an easy thing.

    @Melissa – Not to worry, you will have to check out my broken down for beginners tutorials. You probably know more about Photoshop than I do. I’m slowly learning; I don’t use it for much.

  13. @Ellen

    Thanks for the compliment, but I didnt’ do that Viking ship on Brett’s blog. He musta scanned that in from somewhere else (besides, couldn’t paint that well!) 🙂


    Yeah…That was it….Voices of Fire.

    More like Voices of Wasting Taxpayers Money on STUPIDITY

    Arghh…Dont’ get me started!

    They talk about starving artists…well, there’s a REASON some of them should starve! 🙂

    Friar’s last blog post..My Dog Basil is So Special

  14. Friar,

    Of course you can paint that well. I thought, hmm, a little different from his usual routine, but this is splendid.

    Ha! You crack me up when you go on about the Voices of Fire. Maybe I’ll be able to see it some day.

    Hope you’re having a good day, mine is quite horrible.

  15. Hey E, not having a good day? If you need a friend, you know where to find me. Sending you hugs (there they are traveling down I-94, headed your way…ooops, traffic jam, flying overhead….and they…have….arrived!). 🙂

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