Yes, but is it Art?
I had stopped what I was doing suddenly. Like the abrupt and offensive sound of a needle scratching an LP, my task had ceased. I looked up at him dumbfounded.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Photography isn’t art. My Dad was an art teacher for 20 years, and it wasn’t until recently that photography was inserted into the art curriculum. It was never considered an art before then.”
I blinked twice. With this level of ignorance, I’d expected knee-high Jack Boots on his feet, or some kind of stick or club in his hand. He was so sure of his opinion... so confident he was right...
“It’s not art, it’s a skill.”
”You...(sigh)...I...I don’t have the words to express to you just how wrong you are.”
He looked at me as if he’d just discovered that it was me who'd peed in his corn flakes this morning. “Don’t you tell me I’m wrong! I know what I’m talking about. My Dad taught Photography for 10 years. It’s not art, it’s a mechanical process.”
My eyebrows rose as if to object, my mouth opened and inhaled as if to speak, but nothing came out. I was so shocked at the absurdity of it all... (Was this what it was like to be offended?...) and finally composing a thought...
“I think that Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, among others, would take issue with that.” I tried to contain myself, being at what passes for work. I put down what I was doing and...
“I don’t know who Amstel Adams or Western is, but my Dad said...”
He continued to talk, his words melded into the teacher’s voice from the Peanuts cartoon.
All of a sudden I knew the story...
His Dad was a failed or frustrated painter, maybe a watercolorist or a Bob Ross graduate, or maybe he answered that ad for a free art test on TV, either way, he felt forced into teaching. Then he gets this class foisted upon him with no raise in pay to compensate for the extra pain in the ass (not to mention little or no extra funding to make it work). Now he’s dealing with all of this chemistry, and these mechanical cameras and lenses...this class was the albatross around his neck and he’d been sure to pass on this opinion like a recessive gene to his offspring.
“...So you’re saying that art must be made by hand?”
“Well, yeah, that’s the creative process. Artists create something from their minds that wasn’t there before. Art isn’t just recording reality.”
“(blink)...So, if I make a camera out of, say, a cigar box, I then make some paper, and coat it with silver nitrate, and then use the cigar box and the paper to create an image that wasn’t there before, that’s not art.”
“It’s still a mechanical process. I know, my Dad’s an ART TEACHER.”
I raised a Harrison-Ford-Righteously-Indignant-Finger at him, “Well, I’m a PHOTOGRAPHER and maybe you should with hold your judgments on the matter until you see my ‘ARTWORK’ on display in my gallery space. There are some other PHOTOGRAPHERS there who might take an interest in your opinions as well.”
For the first time in a while he said nothing.
“(deep inhale)...You have a sad and narrow view of art...
Some people’s kids...