I am not, in fact, an artist at all. At best, assignment photographers are craftsmen, not artists, solving other people’s problems and putting other people’s ideas into effect in the most timely and cost-effective way possible; to think otherwise is delusional. Sure, part of the job is bringing a personal point of view to the party, in fact that’s often the reason you’re hired, but a point of view is not art, and there’s never the degree of autonomy and self-direction that I think of as a precondition for something to qualify as a truly artistic endeavour.

via Art vs. Craft | planet shapton.

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  1. Yes, this is why Josef Koudelka for instance never accepts assignments,

  2. It’s the difference between design and art. Design is used to provide solutions. Good design is extremely important and has a valuable place in our culture. Great commercial photography is so important. (Think Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Annie Liebowiitz all commercial photographers )

    Art is different, it is more open ended and tends to make the question his assumptions or see the world in a new light. A comparable analogy would comparing an essayist or a non-fiction author to a poet. They are different but a good writer can offer a poetic sensibility to an essay or article. A good commercial photography can bring visual artistry to a job. Often commercial photographers have “artistic” projects that they are doing outside of work. Sometimes these projects are what influence the art directors in their hiring decisions.

    I like reference to Josef Koudelka above, a wonderful artist. It reminds me of what Lawrence Ferlingetti said when he spoke at Allen Ginzberg’s memorial service. Ginzberg, the most famous of the Beat Poets of the 50s and 60s and wonderful eccentric. “Allen was the perfect artist–he was completely unemployable.”

    When I think about what it means to be an artist, I think of that line.

  3. I have to throw out the BS flag on this one. Some of the best problem solvers and creatives are some of the best artists of today. The [reverse] logic used in the thesis is like pouring water into a sieve. JMO

  4. Well, Michelangelo was an “assignment” painter for the Pope. He had the equivalent of a creative brief for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, had to get sketches approved, had to re-do some things, and the like. So if even he wasn’t an artist, then no one is, and the term has no meaning.

  5. “to think otherwise is delusional”

    The blogger is right. It usually is delusional to equate commercial photography with art. A lot of advertising work may contain elements of art and can often be described as “artistic” or “artsy.” But, being artsy isn’t quite the same as being an artist.

    There is no split between art and craftsmanship and this false dialectic has been a plague on the arts since academic painting was overthrown by the impressionists. The real dialectic we’re confronted with in photography is mostly the social conflict between high culture and mass culture. Commercial photography is judged by how effectively it appeals to a wide audience. Mass audiences are drawn to in-your-face obviousness, spectacle and novelty. On the contrary, the audience for fine art is small and it’s elements are usually subtle and only capable of being recognized by a tiny well informed community of coinnouseurs.

    The bottom line is that the subtlety and sophistication necessary for the fine arts are in direct opposition to the obviousness and spectacle necessary to appeal to a mass audience. Most commercial photography, especially for the large corporations, aims at a mass audience. There is no reconciling this opposition between cultures and the two are hopelessly pitted against one another.

    The dialectic between high and low culture doesn’t stop a lot of commercial photographers from believing that they are artists even if they are just producing mass culture spectacle. In fact, the most effective producers of kitsch are sincere people that genuinely believe that they are producing art. Successful advertising photography generally requires an in-built “vulgar touch,” but it must be sincere or else the audience will reject it. “Delusion” is actually helpful in order to be successful. The guy taking pictures of upside-down skateboarders for some sneaker company must sincerely believe that he is producing art even though he is producing kitsch, otherwise he wouldn’t have the vulgar touch necessary to relate well to the mass audience.

  6. Here we go again- it’s not black and white.

    There’s craft[technique] and artistic-[art direction/styling/tone and manner] that goes into a photography. Some more than others.

    Some are more craft than art- like street photography-shoot whatever you find interests you.
    Some photographers style their subjects and shoot them, That’s more art than craft. My 2 cents.

    I wanna stay delusional

  7. At what point does a craft become a commodity?

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