What is Fine Art Photography

Posted: April 1, 2015 in Uncategorized
I know of photographers that call themselves fine art photographers, but I wonder what that term means.  Are they selling their images on expensive photo papers, or what is it that makes the images they produce fine art?  Let me know your idea of what is fine art photography.
So is this fine art? If it is, why.


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  1. oneowner says:

    I studied Fine Art photography for years at RIT 40 years ago and I still don’t know what the term means. My best guess is that it is photography that is not commercial. It’ll be interesting to see what others think.

  2. Russ Tomanek says:

    Interesting question, Mike, and I predict you’ll get a wide range of answers. To me, Fine Art Photography is primarily based on the intent of the artist or the concept behind the image. Many images are just snapshots as there is no predetermined intent before snapping the shutter. Given this, however, not all images with predetermined intent produce Fine Art images; the determination is made by the viewer of the image. What is a snapshot to some may be Fine Art to others.

  3. For me fine art photography puts the “art” in the lead role. It is more than a record shot of a subject. It has flow, colors, depth and an unusual take on a subject that others can enjoy as an original take on a subject and most of all pleasurable to view. Your image has all the elements and for me is fine art. I like the lines, color variances, depth and symmetry all with the original subject still recognizable. Great work of art.

  4. Ruben Giron says:

    Fine art. Here is my take on what “art” means. One translation of art is “are”. It is a state of being. In the Yoga tradition, all creativity stems from a place deep inside all of us. A place of stillness. It is from this place of stillness where we get in touch with our essence and from this essence, creativity is born. This is the place of “art”. For me, art is that which stills my mind and puts me in touch with the deepest part of myself…the way a sunset or the ocean can still my mind. I know there are many different ways to define art but this is the one I resonate with. It’s not a mental approach. It is a state of presence in this very moment that is inspired from the senses…in this case, a photo. It is the essence behind the photo…what it points me towards. When I saw your picture, my mind became still and so for that reason, the picture took me to that place I would call art. “Fine” is just the adjective describing “art”.

  5. Mike Moats says:

    I called myself a fine art photographer when I was selling my images through the art show circuit. If someone asked me what that meant being a fine art photographer I would not of had a set answer to give them. So I wonder now how many photographers that call themselves fine art photographer ever thought of what their response would be if someone asked them that question. I suppose many of them don’t have a set answer, and that they would have to think about it before they answered. My thought was that I was producing images that someone would want to hang on the walls of their home, and that they would consider it art if they were willing to hang it on their walls. Not sure what the fine means.

  6. Larry Vogel says:

    I wrote a book about Creativity called The Seeker’s Journey. One chapter is titled Art Is…

    The book contains many great quotes which support creativity and art. One of my favorites is from John Ruskin, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.”

    In the book I begin the Art Is… chapter with this;

    Art is… What is art, the age-old question? Rudyard Kipling wrote, “And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his (Adam’s) mighty heart. Till the devil whispered behind the leaves, It’s pretty, but is it art?”

    The same chapter goes on with a discussion about comments by Thomas Moore;

    Author and educator Thomas Moore wrote Care of the Soul and many other books that talk about a deeper language of life, a language that speaks to and nurtures the inner being, the soul. Moore says, “The arts are in the business of mystery, conveying in irreducible images the vastness of meaning and the depth of experience. Not self-expression, but the glimpsing of a profound, archetypal realm is the real work of art.” Moore also declares, “The soul is more deeply affected by imagination than by clever and expert coercion’s. It is moved by good words and images.” In this sense, once again, we can begin to understand that art isn’t necessarily just about us as individuals or about some sort of personal issue, propaganda, or as Moore puts it, “expert coercion’s.” Art has a power or magic to transform the viewer, even to heal. In today’s society this notion may seem a bit foolish; however, Thomas Moore admonishes, “Art is essential to the soul, and it is only a society that has forgotten the soul that could marginalize its art and its artists.”

    And in the conclusion of the chapter, Art Is… we read;

    Although we may never be able to place a specific definition on the concept of what art is, it is still worth our consideration. It has been said, it isn’t the answers that make our character better, but it is the questioning that edifies. The search is worthwhile, if for no other reason than we find new directions in our pursuit for clarity. When an artist creates from a level of personal expression the results may be enough for us to measure it as good art, however when art is created from a much deeper place, a place where one soul speaks to another, this is how we shall measure great art.

    • Mike Moats says:

      Larry, thanks for the response. I have to say those who have wrote about art talk about and artist’s soul within their work and I guess I’m not a deep enough thinker to understand what that means. The painter Thomas Kincade amassed over 4 billion dollars in sales and far outsold any other artist in the history of art, but the art world never acknowledged him as a great artist. Since we can’t really put an exact label on the word art, you would think that the guy who sold the most art in the history of art would be consider the greatest artist of all time. If there is such a thing as the soul of the artist connecting with the soul of the viewers then he was the master at it. But still he was never considered to be great in the eyes of the art experts. This is were it gets confusing to me. Art is supposed to evoke an emotion in the viewer, and his art must have did that to sell 4 billion dollars worth, so why didn’t the art world ever except him. I would mention his name to painters at art shows and they would have nothing but terrible things to say about his art. I wonder is it because the art world was jealous of him? He said that artist had it wrong, they shouldn’t paint for themselves, they should paint for the viewer. That’s another thing to think about. Do we create what we want, or do we create to please our audience.

      • Larry Vogel says:

        Mike you continue to ask all of the right questions, and as I said we may never be able to place a specific definition on the concept of what art is, or in your original post “fine art”, it is the search for such answers that makes us more aware. Real growth as an artist comes from the re-examination of who we are and what we want from our art.

        Your follow up question about creating for ourselves, or to please the audience, really is at the core of fine art vs. commercial art. As human beings we are always seeking to categorize just about everything we encounter. Thus the need for words like fine art photographer. It really helps to define what we do as photographers. I believe, we very seldom, if ever, achieve anything strictly by accident. I would not buy a camera and then all of a sudden wake up one morning and find myself as a fine art photographer, any more than accidentally becoming a commercial photographer. First we declare what we are, or what we want to be, then work towards that end. Musicians do it all of the time.

        The term musician is pretty vague. What kind of musician are you? What instrument/s do you play? Do you write music or play cover songs? Are you a rock and roll musician, or classical? We are all pretty use to tagging music and musicians with labels. And just the act of owning a guitar does not qualify you as a musician any more than owning a camera makes you a photographer.

        Your example of Thomas Kinkade, best known for, the “Disneyesque”, “kitschy” cottages in the woods, is a great example of how financial success does not completely define who is a great artist and who is not. Our best example of a financially unsuccessful artist, but historically significant artist is Vincent van Gogh. Kinkade may be considered, by many as the greatest marketeer of art, but most certainly will not reach the status of a great artist in the history of art.

      • Mike Moats says:

        Thanks Larry, I guess we all pick up the camera and go out and shoot what makes us happy. When we share our images we hope that what we like will also appeal to the viewers. I’ve always said there was no better feeling then to have someone buy one of my images to hang on the walls of their home, because they were connecting to the same thing that I connected to. So I guess you could say that our souls were connecting. I hear the excitement in the voice of a new photographer when they sell that first image, and the pride they have that they produced an image worthy of hanging in someone home. I think it would be natural for an artist to want viewers to love their artwork, so I would think Thomas Kincade felt pretty loved, even though he was rejected by the art critics. I wonder how frustrating it is for an artist that in the eyes of the art experts has produced great art, but not appreciated or understood by the art buyers. Who in the end is right, the experts or the buyers. It’s like the movie that gets a great rating from the critics and you go see it and hate it. Is a movie that sells out at the box office a great movie even though the critics said it was trash. I guess we will never understand or have an answer to what makes any form of art successful, is it based on popularity with the mass public, or the opinions of the critics.

      • You noted that the “painter” Kincade sold $4 billion worth of images. That doesn’t make him an artist (and painter does not equal artist). He sold “decoration,” a product that had no deeper meaning than to decorate someone’s walls with an attractive pattern. A valid product, and one that millions of people were willing to pay for, but that doesn’t make it art any more than General Mills billions of dollars in cereal sales is art. Also he sold millions of items at relatively small prices, and I would bet that very few of his paintings significantly increased in value in the secondary market. Sales don’t equate to great art, a broad recognition that an artist has expressed a deeper truth about the human condition or our place in the world is far more important than sales. Technically his work was flawed as well with multiple light sources that could not have been present in the scene.

      • Mike Moats says:

        Thanks for your opinion Richard. I guess if you asked the people who bought Kincade’s paintings (which hang in an estimated 1 in every 20 homes in America) if they bought art, they would say they did. Who has the right to make the call on what is art? What is art is an opinion, and that opinion is going to vary from person to person, buyer to buyer. I’ve seen lots of so called art that I don’t care for but would I be right to say it’s not art, no. The art critics trashed Kincade’s art, but obviously lots of buyers of his work would disagree with those art critics, so who is right.

  7. Bekah says:

    I have the exact same definition as you Mike. Fine art photography is anything that a stranger would want to hang on their wall.

    As for the question about the photographer who made billions with his art, I believe that many people in the art world shun him because of the whole “sell out” controversy. For some reason it’s still a common belief that the artist is supposed to starve and the artist that makes a living is a sell out who only makes images for commercial purposes.

    Just look at that photographer who just broke the world record for selling the most expensive photo… many in the art world look down on him. Why? Because he’s an amazing sales person who has made his own galleries, skipped over the traditional art gatekeepers, and gives his staff a rigorous amount of sales training. Also, he is self-taught, which seems to be another no-no in the traditional art world.

    Even though photography is art, I feel that, as photographers, we are lucky in one sense. Most of us know that photography can be a business, so we never feel guilty for “selling-out”. We’re never taught that it’s a dirty thing to want money for our passion.

  8. Tom says:

    I’m attempting to start my own “Art Photography” business right now! I don’t think my work is all that “Fine,” so I agree in leaving that term to others to define.

    I would consider any image that embodies a photographer’s intent to share their subjective vision with the viewer as “Art.” That vision could be about light, shadow, color, forms, textures, and patterns, individually or in combination. So a certain amount of conscious thought also goes into an art photograph. That thought may happen before the shutter is tripped or after. In my case it’s both.

    As to whether a stranger might want to hang a photograph on a wall… what happens if no one buys anything I make (a very real fear as I start out)? Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting while he was alive (no, I do not consider myself in his league, not by a long shot :-)), but no one doubts the artistry of his work now.

    I also agree with Bekah, I have no misgivings about making my work commercially successful. I certainly have no desire to starve. I tip my hat to Peter Lik. If I could become just 10% as successful as him, I’d be ecstatic!

    • Rebekah says:

      Your work is very nice Tom! You have a distinct style and I think you’ll do well. We all fear putting ourselves out there at first… you will sell something… it might not happen immediately, persistence is key, but it’ll happen eventually. There is a market for everything, you just need to find your people.

      And thanks for naming the photographer I was too lazy to google… I couldn’t think of his name, ha!

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