But Is It Art??

Yes, it’s that same old question… what is art? We all know that, ultimately, it’s in the eye of the beholder. For better or worse. Mostly I’ve been okay with knowing that most of us cannot be objective enough to finally pin it down and agree on *exactly* what art is. And, truthfully, it’s probably no big deal. Kind of fun, actually, for each of us to get to choose what we think art really is, then display it visually, and aurally, for our friends and neighbors to see and hear. Then they get to decide, mostly privately, whether they think we know what the hell art really is or not. And like I said, no big deal anyway… we’re not an artistically-driven culture, the way we might perceive France and Italy to be. Here, it’s rarely worth more than a light conversation at a cocktail party, unless you’re at a high-stakes art auction. Then, at some point, the piece de arte becomes defined by it’s price tag. How like us humans to find a way to define it, quantify it and dehumanize it by putting a price on it.

The reason I bring this up at all is due to an art happening here in Virginia City last weekend, an art festival, nestled snugly between our granite peaks and the sagebrush. Paintings, photographs, sculpture, pottery and jewelry were prominently displayed throughout the old section of town in small tents along the boardwalk. I was one of three picked to judge the entrants’ submissions to allow them into our show or not. In that, I was privy to some of the notes the artists sent along with the picture submissions of their particular work, as well as a few of the notes from the other judges. It was, to say the least, eye-opening and thought-provoking.

What brought the art question up for me this time was the comment one pleasant person sent with their photography. They noted that their pictures had not been “processed” electronically in any way, but were just as their camera had caught them. I tripped on that concept right away, not only because the “Is it art?” question was already lurking in the shadows of the submissions, but their frames were much better than the pictures… not at all what I considered art for a real art show, But then, what do I know??

Which reminds me of something one of our judges said several weeks ago. Remember now, we were looking at the artists’ pictures and voting yay or nay. This judge wrote something like, “very original, creative and unique. I vote no.”
Well, okay. I liked the stuff, so I wrote “Stilted, uninspired and dreary. Yes.” Sure glad I wasn’t the moderator on this deal.

The artist whose pics were not digitally tampered with made it into our show. I saw them up close and personal… sorry, they were still uninspired, with no suggestion whatsoever of their being hung in any sort of prominent place in anyone’s abode. So the basic question this person had put out there hung in my mind… was it art because it wasn’t tampered with electronically or changed in any way? Did they think that the purity of capturing a moment on a digital chip, then faithfully reproducing it exactly qualified it as art? Really?? Then, of course, I had to think that maybe it wasn’t art because it wasn’t changed somehow, from the original image. Because that brings up a question – is it art if it reproduces reality totally faithfully?

To my mind, absolutely not. Yes, there is art in nature… every day, every moment.
Does it continue to be art because we reproduce it accurately? I leave it to you.

Now we have to keep this conversation in the realm of paintings and photos, for the sake of clarity and brevity… and because I’d get totally lost in this diatribe otherwise.
Music, sculpture and literature get different answers to our questions than paintings, for instance. Not to mention different questions. And there are so many questions I refuse to deal with here… such as, if it’s bad art, is it still art? When is it not art? When does it become art? Does it have to be finished to be art?? (the David would tell us “obviously not…”) Yeah, right, David, but you’re not a painting or a photo, so get outa here… Continuing on, if it’s less expensive, is it less art? Should a monetary value define art? Should art beg to be defined at all???

Perhaps I shouldn’t have picked this topic. But let’s try to forge ahead into the fog, anyway. I’m thinking that paintings and photos become art, basically, when the person painting or shooting is putting their eye, their perception, and maybe their heart, into the painting or pic. As soon as they begin enhancing what they see, I think they *might* be creating art, because they are redefining what they see enough to change the way everyone else sees their subject, Then, whether it’s pleasant, compelling, unique, wildly creative or stunningly brilliant and unexpected depends upon our perception of it. At least that’s how I feel about it.

I was on the set of Sharkey’s Machine back in ’81, talking to the cinematographer, William Fraker. We were killing time between shots and I asked him if he tried to capture the reality of each scene or enhance the scene. He didn’t hesitate. “Oh god, always, ALWAYS enhance the scene, make it bigger than life. People get reality every day. You’d never sell a film by depicting reality…”







So back to our photographer. I’m gonna find my way out of this one yet, I swear…  here are two pictures taken by them, unenhanced  digitally or otherwise. Not trying to be mean or cruel here, I simply don’t think this is art. The art of painting and photography has no responsibility to the faithful reproduction of reality. Art is in two places… in the mind’s eye of the creator of it, and in the eye of the beholder.





Here are two of mine, digitally enhanced by photoshop. They shouldn’t look less real, less accurate. In fact I pushed the contrast up a bit on both, sharpened the focus and exposed a touch more light to them.




Here’s their bison, and mine. I interpreted their bison pic, to show there might be more to a photo than simply the true reproduction of the original. But is it art?? At this point, who knows, or cares? Let’s all get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini. Thanks for hangin’ with me on this matter. An easier topic next time………
waaay easier.

Steve Hulse

One Reply to “But Is It Art??”

  1. I have a print marked Steve But 1998. its a monkey holding a cocanut..Set in a jungle scene. Lg. print I bought it at an auction there was 2 of them that were suppose to be auctioned together but a mistake was made. I am curious if my print could be by you?
    Thank you for your response
    D hamilton

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