On exposure

Today I want to take a step or two back to discuss a fundamental concept of photography – exposure.

We’ve all been there – bad exposures happen.  Sometimes those bad exposures can be fixed after the fact while other times we are stuck knowing that we almost had an amazing photograph.  The key is to understand what it means to make a good exposure and then to take the time to dial in the right settings for the image.  But what are the right settings?

It’s fair to say that the exposure meters built in to cameras today are VERY sophisticated.  When pointed at an ‘average’ scene the camera will correctly determine the exposure needed to make a good image.  The problem is that the camera doesn’t know what you are trying to achieve in any given image and there is no one absolute correct setting for any given scene.  Learning how to adjust the settings on your camera will allow you to help your camera use the right settings to help you achieve your vision.

So before we dive into the three parameters that affect exposure, I want to take a moment to discuss focal points.  On fully automatic mode, your camera will determine what it thinks should be in focus and then it will base the exposure settings on correctly exposing the element in the frame that it decided should be in focus.   By learning how to change where your camera is focusing, you’ll help your camera expose properly for the object that you think is most important.  But of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  And that’s an oversimplification but making sure that your camera is focusing on the right part of an image (like someone’s eyes instead of the tree in the background) is an excellent starting point.

In this image, I felt the eyes should be the sharpest part of the image.  While the tongue and sucker are important to the photo, they are not the main subject (Maebe is) so therefore her eyes and expression should be the focal point of the image.

In this image, I felt the eyes should be the sharpest part of the image. While the tongue and sucker are important to the photo, they are not the main subject (Maebe is) so therefore her eyes and expression should be the focal point of the image.

A useful metaphor here is a bucket of water.  Imagine your exposure is a bucket and that you want to fill the bucket exactly to the top.  You know that you need a set volume of water to achieve that goal.  Too little and you have an under filled bucket.  Too much and, well, you get the point.  A properly exposed image is like that – the digital sensor needs a set amount of light to ‘fill’ it.  Too little light and you’ll have an underexposed image, too much light and it will be overexposed.  Seems simple enough, right?

There are three tools that a photographer can use to set an exposure:  shutter speed, aperture size (often referred to as an f-stop), and ISO setting.   When any one of the settings is modified, then one or both of the other two need to be adjusted accordingly to balance out the exposure.

I think ISO is the least interesting of the three.  The ISO  (International Organization of Standardization) is something that you want to change with decreasing light.  Basically, the darker your scene, the higher ISO setting that you’ll want to use (if you are hand holding your camera) but that higher ISO setting comes with a cost – digital noise.  This noise will manifest itself in one of two ways – luminance noise (gray pixels) and color noise (red, green, and blue pixels).  This noise will reduce the fine detail and sharpness of an image so you want to keep your ISO setting as close to the default setting as possible (using 100 or 200) for the best possible image quality.  Check out this photo (and zoomed in detail shot) to see of an example of what the high ISO noise looks like.  It’s important to note that had I not turned up the ISO, I would have had a blurry mess of a photo so sometimes it’s important to crank up the ISO to get something rather than missing the shot all together.

A family of javalina came for a late night visit.  This image was made with a very high ISO (25,600).  It looks decent enough when you look at a small version of the file.  This image was 'cleaned up' significantly in post-processing to reduce the noise.

A family of javelina came for a late night visit. This image was made with a very high ISO (25,600). It looks decent enough when you look at a small version of the file. This image was ‘cleaned up’ significantly in post-processing to reduce the noise.

This is just a cutout of the above image.  There was no post-processing done to reduce the noise on this image.  Click on it to see a larger version.

This is just a cutout of the above image. There was no post-processing done to reduce the noise on this image. Click on it to see a larger version.

 

Okay, so I know you wondered what it looked like when the camera was set to the low ISO setting (100).  It resulted in a 30 second exposure which is obviously WAY longer than a camera can be held perfectly still.  Also, it is important to note that even had I been using a tripod, the image would have been unusable because the javalina were moving so while the background would have been sharp, the javalina would have been blurred so much that it would not have been present in the image.

Okay, so I know you wondered what it looked like when the camera was set to the low ISO setting (100). It resulted in a 30 second exposure which is obviously WAY longer than a camera can be held perfectly still. Also, it is important to note that even had I been using a tripod, the image would have been unusable because the javelina were moving so while the background would have been sharp, the javelina would have been blurred so much that they would not have been present in the image.

The next setting is shutter speed.  This one’s pretty obvious I think.  The longer your shutter is open to the light, the brighter your image will turn out.  A relatively long shutter speed will cause anything moving in your scene to appear blurred in the photo whereas a relatively short shutter speed will freeze motion.  Relative is the key term here.  A person standing for a portrait might be able to hold still for 1/15 sec while a cat batting a paw will appear streaked at 1/200 sec or faster.  You should choose your shutter speed in consideration to what you are shooting AND how you are shooting it.  If you are using a tripod, then any shutter speed is likely fine.  If you are hand holding without any stabilization methods, then a rule of thumb is 1/the focal length so if you are using a 100 mm lens, then 1/100 sec should be relatively sharp.  Are you with me so far?

Notice the far leg - even at 1/200 sec there is noticeable motion blur.

Notice the far leg – even at 1/200 sec there is noticeable motion blur.

The final setting, and perhaps the most important for a majority of subjects is the aperture size.  The aperture is the hole in the lens that allows light into the camera.  The larger the hole, the more light that will hit the sensor at any given shutter speed.  So it might seem that a wide open aperture is the way to go then, right?  Not necessarily.  Aperture also affects Depth of Field (DOF).  The wider the opening in the lens, the smaller the plane of focus is on your image (the confusing part is that these settings are ratios so f/1.2 is really a large opening while f/64 is a very small opening).  This is a great tool for helping to focus the viewer’s attention exactly where you want it in an image.  Take a look at this still life series to help you understand.

This image has the widest aperture.  Notice how the lead duck's eyes are sharp but that focus quickly falls off.  That's called a shallow depth of field.

This image has the widest aperture (f/2). Notice how the lead duck’s eyes are sharp but that focus quickly falls off. That’s called a shallow depth of field.

This image was made with the aperture at a medium setting (f/8). Notice how there is pretty good detail in the lead duck but while the back duck is out of focus, it is starting to show some definition.

This image was made with the aperture at a medium setting (f/8). Notice how there is pretty good detail in the lead duck but while the back duck is out of focus, it is starting to show some definition.

This image was made with the smallest aperture (f/20).  Notice how the lead duck is pretty sharp throughout and while the back duck is not sharp, it is well defined enough to be easily recognizable.

This image was made with the smallest aperture (f/20). Notice how the lead duck is pretty sharp throughout but although the back duck is not sharp, it is well defined enough to be easily recognizable.

So there you have it.  Three different tools that you can use to help achieve a good exposure.  My recommendation is that you experiment with each of these three settings.  Some might be available as scroll wheels on your camera while others will be menu level adjustments.  Once you feel you have a good handle on that, I recommend that you use aperture priority mode for most of your shooting.  This will allow you to manage the depth of field (area in sharp focus) while letting your camera figure out the right shutter speed and/or ISO.  Practice with it a bit and let me know how it goes.

One last image to leave you with - notice the shallow depth of field?  it makes it very easy to see the hummingbird and flower.  Had I used a smaller aperture, finding the hummingbird would have been a 'Where's Waldo' type of experience.

One last image to leave you with – notice the shallow depth of field? it makes it very easy to see the hummingbird and flower. Had I used a smaller aperture, finding the hummingbird would have been a ‘Where’s Waldo’ type of experience.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Stock imagery

M_Kloth-1-2

You might not have stopped to consider it, but the stock imagery industry is a part of your daily life.  Photos and videos are everywhere and short of locking yourself in a dark room or spending the day hiking in the woods, you will see stock imagery every day of your life. I define stock imagery to include all photographs and videos that were created on speculation (or were the ‘leftovers’ from a shoot) and they are then licensed for use in just about every way possible.  My own stock photos have been used on everything from book covers (thank you Jon Katz), to advertisements, to custom wall art prints (you can make them on demand at Costco).  They have been used in things that I know about and in ways that I can only imagine.  Stock imagery used to be quite profitable but with the advent of inexpensive but excellent digital cameras, the market has become saturated.  There is still money to be made in licensing stock imagery to be sure, but it is not the industry that many photographers make it out to be.  Today I want to share my thoughts on where the market is today and where I see it going.

M_Kloth-1-5

Not long ago, there used to be two varieties of stock imagery (and just photography for most practical purposes) – Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty Free (RF).  For RM photos, a company would specify a very specific use for the image (say a page in a monthly calendar), the number of copies that would be made, and the length of time that it would be used.  In exchange for the right to use the image, they would pay a certain amount and they would use the image as they promised.  If they later changed their minds and wanted to use it for something else or for a longer period of time than agreed upon, then an additional license would need to be purchased.  RF photos are sold on a different model.  Instead of specifying how the image would be used, the company buying a license would just say they want the right to use the image with no strings attached and they would pay a set fee for that usage.  Historically, RM images were the highest quality images that commanded the top dollars while RF was considered the lower quality imagery that was sold in bulk.   That was mostly before my time and I’ve always sold my work under the RF model.  While in theory I could have earned more by selling RM licenses, the trade off is that you can usually sell many more RF licenses than you can RM licenses and the accounting is much easier (no need to verify that the terms of the license are being followed).  Photographers typically earn a small percentage of the licensing revenue in exchange for the stock agency’s service of marketing and managing the business end.

M_Kloth-3631

Sometime around the mid-2000s, a new model hit the market and started making waves – microstock.  Where traditional licenses were sold for hundreds of dollars for a high resolution image, the new microstock industry sold them for dollars (usually less than $5 but maybe as much as $10).  The microstock industry was able to offer these prices because there was a new demographic supplying imagery – the hobbyist photographer.  There have always been excellent photographers that consider photography a hobby rather than a profession but around this time, the consumer digital camera quality became good enough that the cameras were capable of creating technically excellent images.  Professional photographers (with rare exception) could not compete in that market because while the volume of sales were higher, it took hundreds or thousands of sales in order to break even on the production cost of the image.  This combination, along with strict quality control guidelines from the microstock companies created a new source for low cost imagery at a time when the demand for fresh imagery (think explosive internet growth) was at an all time high.  Anyone looking at the quality of the photos available and looking at the cost that they were being offered (using the RF model) could see the writing on the wall.  A decade later the big stock agencies are still working to find a way to stay competitive against that market.

M_Kloth-8653

To adapt, we’ve seen some of the expected and unexpected solutions from the large traditional stock agencies.  First, there has been a consolidation of the industry.  While Getty and Corbis were long the big names in the industry, now they are THE two because they’ve bought most of their competitors and then they tightened their belts to reduce redundancy.  Second (and they always did this to a certain extent), they have made agreements to have rights to certain kinds of images that are largely unavailable on microstock sites (for example Associated Press images can be licensed through Corbis).  Third, they have been ahead of the curve for licensing video clips.  While microstock sites thrive on the hobbyist producers, videography is much more complex so there are many fewer producers of quality video even though today’s consumer cameras are capable of producing excellent video files too.   Finally (for now at least), Getty made a very interesting gamble a few months back that will likely pay them (it remains to be seen how it will benefit the content producers) big dividends down the road.  They started giving away (some of) their imagery for free.

M_Kloth-1

I know, it sounds crazy but I suspect, it is more crazy like a fox than crazy foolish.  See for a long time bloggers and other small content users have been just taking what they want to use for their sites thinking that a simple credit was sufficient (it is not – that is copyright infringement).  Now Getty has given those people a way to use the work for free without any fear of copyright infringement (which can come with statutory damages of up to $150,000 per image plus legal expenses) by allowing them to embed those photographs from their site using their own embed tool.  So what’s the catch?  Every time a viewer  opens a page with one of those photographs, Getty is able to track that usage (and depending on browser security settings, likely very much more).  Simply put, they are exchanging ‘free licenses’ for the ability to data mine from the people consuming the imagery.  And it is no surprise – if Facebook has taught us anything, it is that data mining is BIG BUSINESS.  (I’m a big spender!  What kind of consumer are you?  Take the Quiz!)

M_Kloth-

So the question then is where do professional photographers go from here if they wish to continue to tap into the stock imagery market?  To my mind, there are a few possible solutions.  First, production costs need to be minimal for any session that is done for stock photography.  That might mean using friends and family members instead of paid models or that might mean not shooting anything on speculation at all.  In my own work, I only submit images that I am shooting anyway for other reasons (for the adoptable pets or for personal projects).  That’s not really any different than what the microstock shooters are doing.  Second (and maybe contrary to the first), pros need to take full advantage of the tools they have that separate themselves from the hobbyists.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is a big trend towards natural light photography today.  Sure it looks nice (when done well) but everyone has equal access to natural light while not everyone has studio lighting.  Those additional tools at the pro’s disposal need to be used to add additional production value so that the images can compete at the higher price point.  Finally, I think professional photographers are going to have to learn to become professional imaging professionals – simply put, they need to start shooting video if they want to keep stock imagery a relevant part of their business model.

M_Kloth-1-4

So there you have it.  Stock imagery in a nutshell from my point of view.  I hope you found the topic interesting and that you didn’t see my post as any sort of sour grapes.  It really isn’t a call for the good old days but rather a reflection of the thoughts I’ve considered about how (and if) stock imagery might remain a part of my business model.  There are no easy answers and there is certainly no going backwards.  Instead, I think these are issues that any stock photographer needs to consider if they wish to continue licensing their work as stock imagery.

M_Kloth-1-6

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Landscape photography tips

I promised that I’d circle back to the topic of landscape photography before the fall colors arrive so today I want to pick up where I left off a few weeks ago. When last I wrote about landscape photography, I wrote about big picture kinds of considerations. Today I want to give you a few tips to consider for the individual photos.

First, I promise not to recommend a lot of gear to you as I write to you each week but today will be an exception. The one piece of gear (other than a camera obviously) that I recommend for every photographer is a polarizing filter (a circular polarizer in most cases). I’ve written about the magic of Photoshop before and in most cases, there are ways to achieve the same effects that you can when you use filters but the polarizer is the exception. Simply put, it affects the way that the light hits the sensor in a way that cannot be changed in post-processing. I could go into this in more detail but I suspect that you are not really interested in a physics lesson so I’ll just tell you what it does to for a photograph.

First and foremost, the polarizing filter is a tool to reduce or eliminate reflection. A classic example is that if you photograph a body of water, with the polarizer off, you’ll likely see a reflection of the scene on the surface of the water whereas if you have the polarizer on, you will see into the water (assuming it is clear enough). Angles of reflection are a factor here and you just need to practice in order to get a feel for it but reflections can be manages on all surfaces including glass and (key point coming up here) leaves. You may not realize it but a lot of light is actually reflected off of the waxy surface of the leaves. If you use a polarizing filter, you’ll be able to manage that reflection in order to get brighter and more saturated colors. Polarizers are also useful for helping to darken the blue sky. This is a nice look for many images but also, it helps to give you contrast between the sky and the clouds giving the clouds more impact in the scene. Oh, and have you ever had a hard time photographing a rainbow? Yep, the polarizing filter will help there too.

The main rainbow was easily visible with and without a polarizing filter but by using the filter, I was able to bring out the detail in the second rainbow and I was able to add contrast between the primary rainbow and the clouds.

The main rainbow was easily visible with and without a polarizing filter but by using the filter, I was able to bring out the detail in the second rainbow and I was able to add contrast between the primary rainbow and the clouds.

One key bit of information for using polarizing filters is that the effect is strongest when the sun is 90 degrees away from the direction that you are shooting. A quick tip to use to see if a polarizing filter will help you is to hold your hand like a child pretends that it is a gun. Point your thumb at the sun then everywhere your index finger points might benefit from a polarizing filter.   Oh, and since you asked, yes, I even use a polarizing filter on my cell phone camera for landscape photos. It makes that much of a difference. One last thought here before I move on. You absolutely can use the polarizer at the point where it has the maximum effect but sometimes the best effect is achieved somewhere between the maximum and minimum effect that it is capable of producing.

This is an example of an image made with my cell phone camera.  The only difference between the two is that I used a polarizing filter in one but not the other.

These photos were made with my cell phone camera. The only difference between the two is that I used a polarizing filter in one but not the other.

Next I want to briefly mention the value of composition guides. The big one that is most often cited is the rule of thirds. Imagine a tic tac toe grid overlaying your scene. Every point that two lines cross is a minor focal point in the image – that’s just the way our brains work. Now imagine putting something important in one of those intersections. That is how you use the rule of thirds in an image and believe me; it can add a lot of impact to an image. This is a very useful tool for helping photographers from falling in the trap of always putting the most important part of an image in the center of the photograph. The center can work but oftentimes central placement tends to work best for an image that has natural symmetry. If there is no symmetry, pushing your main subject off to the side is usually a good idea (keep that in mind for portraits too!).

I added an overlay to this photo of the saguaro and sun.  Note that the saguaro hits two of the four cross points.  Also note that the sun is about a third of the way down in the image and the major flare is about a third of the way up in the image.

I added an overlay to this photo of the saguaro and sun. Note that the saguaro hits two of the four cross points. Also note that the sun is about a third of the way down in the image and the major flare is about a third of the way up in the image.  Also, getting back to the polarizing filter – in this photo with the sun in the composition, the polarizing filter would have no real effect on the image

The rule of thirds and the use of symmetry are both great tools to use for improving your compositions but they are not the only choices.   You could also use the ‘snapshot aesthetic’ which loosely means that you are consciously avoiding using compositional guides but as with any tool, you should only use it when you have a reason to use it. Another formal compositional guide that you might consider is the ‘golden spiral’.

I spared you from the physics lesson but now it’s time for some math. Have you ever heard of the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci Sequence, or the Fibonacci Spiral? They are all variations on a theme.   It seems that nature likes order and efficiency and the Golden Ratio is something that can be seen over and over again in nature. Anyhoo, back in 1202, Fibonacci published a book entitled Liber Abaci. It was a math book and he realized that a particular sequence of numbers (which we now call the Fibonacci sequence) was reflected over and over in nature. That sequence is 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on. The formulate is Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2 so the sequence continues infinitely. That sequence also can be represented as a ratio 1.618 (rounded to 3 decimal points but also continues infinitely). So then, how does that help us with landscape photography? Just like the rule of thirds can give us a graphical representation, the advanced math that Fibonacci taught us can be presented as a graph. When graphed out, they look like these examples and as you might have guessed, placing important elements of your image along those lines and intersections can lead to stronger compositions.

270px-FibonacciBlocks.svg

This is how the Fibonacci sequence can be graphed out as blocks. It is of limited use for photographers this way but…

915px-Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

… see how it can be used to form this spiral? That’s referred to as the Golden Spiral and it can be a very useful way to help you organize your compositions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That seems like a lot to take in so I’ll wrap it up here and leave you with some examples. Happy shooting!

Real world landscapes will probably never fit exactly into the neat confines of a Fibbonacci spiral.

Real world landscapes will probably never fit exactly into the neat confines of a Fibonacci spiral.  One of the main uses for this tool will be to get you to think about having major lines resolve neatly into the corner of the frame.  Your viewers might not appreciate exactly why the image looks ‘right’ but very often viewers will appreciate the composition.  As a photography instructor, when I see that a student has one or more of their lines resolve neatly into the corner, I know that they were paying attention to the details of their composition.

Consider these slightly different crops of the same photograph.  The one on the left has the mountain resolving neatly into the corner while the other leaves open sky.  Which do you prefer?

Consider these slightly different crops of the same photograph shown above. The one on the left has the mountain resolving neatly into the bottom left corner while the other leaves open sky. Which do you prefer?

This one mas o menos follows the rule of thirds.

This one (más o menos) follows the rule of thirds.  The grain silo is near a cross point and the horizon line meets the wheat field about a third of the way into the composition.  I included this one because I wanted to stress that these compositional guidelines are there to help you compose and not to be rigid rules to be exactly followed.

 

 

 

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

This is art because…

Last week I shared with you a series of work that one might or might not consider art and asked for your opinions.  Today I want to discuss those results.  As one might guess, you universally considered some but not all of those examples as art.  Interestingly (to me at least), none of the examples were universally rejected as art.

Before I go any further, I think it might be time to define art.  If you look up the word art, you’ll likely find something along the line of ‘an expression of human emotion’ or perhaps ‘an application of creative skill and imagination’ but those lines seem a bit lacking.  Worse, some definitions try to link art with aesthetics (a set of principles concerned with the appreciation of beauty) but some art is decidedly ugly so surely that can’t be right.

The problem is, ‘What is art?’ is really more of a philosophical question than something that can be precisely defined.  For example, if you state that art is the product of ‘an expression of human emotion’, then does that mean that other animals cannot create art?  Alternately, if you believe art is ‘an application of creative skill and imagination’ then how do you consider something like the GPS navigation?  Surely it took some creative skill and imagination for someone to think if they put some satellites in orbit then we could use these little devices in our cars to help us get from one place to the next.  Still most people think of that as science or engineering and not art.

Elephant painting. http://luigiburks22.blogspot.com/2010/01/elephant-painting.html

The art question is actually one that’s been considered for a LONG, LONG time.  Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle famously pondered it as have many philosophers since.  For the sake of keeping this somewhat shorter than a doctoral thesis, I’m going to share with you just two lines of thought on the subject.

  • Family Resemblances – You know that XXX (say the Mona Lisa) is art. You then see YYY (say Girl with a Pearl Earring). Since you know that the former is a work of art (because Leonardo da Vinci was a famous painter), even though you may never have heard of Johannes Vermeer, you understand that there are similarities between the two paintings so if the former is art, then the latter must also be art. (Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory)
  • Institutional Contexts – Something becomes art because an authority deemed it was art (George Dickie’s theory)

While these two concepts do not define what art is, they at least give us some useful guidelines.   In our cumulative experiences, we’ve all come to recognize certain objects as art and that knowledge provides a foundation for how we experience new work.  If we find two works to be sufficiently similar, then we conclude that the new work is also art.  So on and so forth.  The second and no less important idea is what Dickie called Institutional Context.  Simply put, if someone in the ‘Art World’ deems a work is art, then it is in fact art.  I like this idea because it gives us a starting point for developing our foundation of what is or isn’t art.  We were not born knowing that Michelangelo’s David is art – someone had to tell us but now because we recognize that sculpture as art, we can now consider how, for example, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker might also be art even though they are stylistically quite different from one another.

So then, one final thought before I get back to the survey.   Art is not a value judgement.   Just because we might recognize something as art, doesn’t mean that it is automatically imbued with value.  There is art that you will like and art that you will not like.   And believe me, that can be very subjective.  So why is some art worth so much more than other art?  Well there’s no simple answer to that either but a few factors are historical significance (Vincent Van Gogh died a poor man because his work was not appreciated in his time but now sells for millions of dollars), luck (sometimes it there’s no getting around the value of being in the right place at the right time), and marketing savvy (some people just know how to sell).

The survey then – everyone agree that the following are art:

  • Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
  • Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam
  • The petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people
  • Pollock’s Eyes in the Heat
  • Dickinson’s Little Arctic Flower
  • Michelangelo’s David
  • Mondrian’s Composition No. II, with Red and Blue
  • Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera
  • The ceremonial mask of the Pwevo people

Of the disputed items, I want to focus on just a few of them before wrapping things up for the week starting with Duchamp’s The Fountain.

Yes, it is a urinal that he signed (albeit with a pseudonym) but it plays a very important role in the history of art.  Think back to the time of the Great War (they didn’t know it was going to be a series at the time).  As you might imagine, there was a lot of unrest (over 37 million people died in the war so rightfully so) and out of that unrest sprung the Dada art movement.  Dadaists thought that in a time of such destruction, that the world didn’t deserve beautiful things like art.  And so they started making things like collages (some in protest) but more and more often, they started to make things that seemed not to make any sense at all.  In fact, they chose the term Dada to represent their movement because it was a nonsensical word.  With that as a background, Marcel Duchamp learned about an unjuried art exhibition (i.e. all work submitted was accepted into the show) so he went to a plumbing store, bought the urinal, signed it, and submitted it to the show.  It was rejected (no surprise there) and Duchamp used that rejection as a platform for furthering the agenda of the Dadaist movement.  And what happened was that, over time, people started to think that an idea itself can be art (Institutional Context at work).  That was hugely freeing because now EVERYONE could be an artist regardless of whether or not they had any skill.

Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ
http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/library/images/502.html, accessed 1/7/13

The next piece that I wanted to comment on is Serrano’s Piss Christ.  Yes, it is vulgar.  Serrano put a Crucifix in a jar, filled it with his own urine (I guess I’m working on a theme here), then photographed it.  That photograph earned a Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts award (which was partially sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts – i.e. with your tax dollars).  As you might assume, the work has been controversial.  The Catholic Church doesn’t like it (Crucifixes are an important symbol for the Church) and conservatives in general hate the idea that their tax dollars went to Serrano because of it.  On first blush, it seems like a huge slap in the face to Christians everywhere but like much art, there’s more to the story.  Like the Dada artists and artists even before that, some artists use their work to address a broader concern.  Read what Serrano has to say about the piece:

“At the time I made Piss Christ, I wasn’t trying to get anything across,” Serrano told the Guardian. “In hindsight, I’d say Piss Christ is a reflection of my work, not only as an artist, but as a Christian.”

“The thing about the crucifix itself is that we treat it almost like a fashion accessory. When you see it, you’re not horrified by it at all, but what it represents is the crucifixion of a man,” Serrano told the Guardian. “And for Christ to have been crucified and laid on the cross for three days where he not only bled to death, he shat himself and he peed himself to death.

“So if Piss Christ upsets you, maybe it’s a good thing to think about what happened on the cross.”

Well, he’s got a point.  Sometimes the horrifying can become such a part of our every day lives that we don’t stop to really think about what that means.  If a photograph, painting, sculpture, et cetera, can make people stop and take notice, is that such a bad thing?

I’m afraid I’m getting a little long here so I’ll wrap it up.  I didn’t find it too surprising that you all tended to lean toward thinking the parody and the flash mob was not art (I think arguments could be made either way) but the one that did surprise me a bit was the Milwaukee Museum of Art.  To my mind, architecture can be an art form (although clearly some designs are more inspired than others) and the design of this building in particular is art.  The design of this building is sculptural in appearance but then again, I didn’t take the survey.  Of those of you that did, 40% felt that it was not art.  And that’s okay too.

Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, photo by Carol M. Highsmith,
http://www.factmonster.com/us/history/milwaukee-art-museum.html, accessed 1/7/13

Thanks for bearing with me on for a long one this week.   Check back next week and I’ll share some additional pointers for landscape photography.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Yeah, but is it art?

As a grad student I was exposed to a LOT of art.  I know, big surprise – art students look at art (okay, yes, it was as much fun as it sounds).   And the thing is, even in the years since, I’ve really only scratched the surface.  I’d guess that even if I spent an hour a day for the rest of my life researching new art, I’d never come close to experiencing all that the world has to offer.  Anyway, in that time, I’ve found works of art that absolutely blow me away and I’ve discovered works that have left me wondering how they could possibly hold so much value.  I think that’s normal.  In fact, if one of my students proclaims that he or she loves all art, then I know for a fact that their experience is very, very limited.

At the beginning of the semester, I always ask my students to write the essay ‘What is art’.  It’s a deceptively simple question and I’m sure than when I first introduce the assignment, that many of them think – ‘Yeah, baby!  Easy A!’ but then they start writing and reality hits.  The good students will have their realization with weeks to spare before the deadline.  The worst students, well, I actually had one student write their entire essay in 45 minutes starting less than two hours before it was due.  But that’s neither here nor there.

This week I am going to keep it short and I’m going to give YOU some homework.  (No, not an essay.)  Take a look at the content (no, you don’t have to watch the videos in their entirety) that I’m posting below (yes, you might find some of it offensive but it is all safe for viewing in mixed company) then tell me if you think each one is or is not art.  Next week I’ll pick up the topic and share my thoughts on the images and videos.  I’ll also give you some food for thought on how you might decide for yourself whether or not something is indeed art.

Enjoy!

1)

2)

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968,
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573, accessed 1/7/13

3)

The-Creation-of-Adam-Michelangelo-520,
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/The-Measure-of-Genius-Michelangelos-Sistine-Chapel-at-500.html#, accessed 1/7/13

4)

5)

Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, photo by Carol M. Highsmith,
http://www.factmonster.com/us/history/milwaukee-art-museum.html, accessed 1/7/13

6)

2012 Photograph (Michael Kloth) of petroglyphs made by the Hohokam people in the Tucson Mountains between 500 and 1100 AD,
http://www.protrails.com/trails/view/214/saguaro_national_park/signal_hill_trail, accessed 1/7/13

7)

Jackson Pollock (1946), “Eyes in the Heat”,
http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/pollock/, accessed 1/7/13

8)

22 month old Child’s scribble (apparently uploaded by a proud parent),
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Child_scribble_age_1y10m.jpg, accessed 1/7/13

9) As if some Little Arctic Flower, by Emily Dickinson (http://www.bartleby.com/113/3010.html, accessed 1/7/13)

As if some little Arctic flower,
Upon the polar hem,
Went wandering down the latitudes,
Until it puzzled came
To continents of summer,
To firmaments of sun,
To strange, bright crowds of flowers,
And birds of foreign tongue!
I say, as if this little flower
To Eden wandered in—
What then? Why, nothing, only
Your inference therefrom!

10)

11)

Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent,
http://www.momastore.org/wcsstore/MOMASTORE1/images/products/40504_A1_Gursky_99_Cent.jpg, accessed 1/7/13

12)

Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ
http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/library/images/502.html, accessed 1/7/13

13) Michelangelo’s David

Michelangelo’s David
http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/micheldavid/david.html, accessed 1/7/13

This next one is a detail shot of the above.  Check out that intricate detail in the hands!

Detail shot of Michelangelo’s David,
http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/micheldavid/david.html, accessed 1/7/13

14) Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (a.k.a. – The Bean)

Cloud Gate, sculpture by Anish Kapoor (2006), photo by Michael Kloth (2006) Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

Cloud Gate, sculpture by Anish Kapoor (2006), photo by Michael Kloth (2006)
Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

15) Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. II, with Red and Blue

Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. II, with Red and Blue
http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4057&page_number=13&template_id=1&sort_order=1, accessed 1/7/13

16) Paper airplane

Paper airplane
http://www.playgameshavefun.com/2010/08/how-to-make-the-harrier-paper-airplane/, accessed 1/7/13

17) Origami flower

Origami flower
http://origami.about.com/od/Holiday-Origami/ss/Easter-Origami-Project-Ideas_5.htm, accessed 1/7/13

18) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera”

19) “Puttin’ On the Ritz” flash mob (consider the flash mob itself and not the music)

20) Pwevo Ceremonial Mask

Pwevo Ceremonial Mask
http://www.arttribal.com/Pwevo/102Pwevo.htm, accessed 1/7/13

So that’s it.  Take the quick yes/no survey to let me know if you think each of the 20 items are art.  I’ll share the results and my thoughts on them next week.

Is it art?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)