Controversial attitudes towards photography and photographic art

The most important talking points:

For many fans of photographic art, today’s market for highly priced fine art photography seems to be a highly controversial topic of discussion. When addressing the matter, we do not want to limit ourselves just to fine-art photography, as this topic of discussion applies equally to painting and other visual arts.

Let’s begin with today and “contemporary art”.

“My five-year old child can do that as well.”

Of course, it is also possible for you to take a blurry or barely thought-through and skewed photo of a situation in the street or paint some child-like scribbles on a piece of paper. So what is artistic about it?

There are currently renowned curators who repeatedly claim that it is an art to paint as freely and unrestrictedly as a small child. As a famous representative of this type of art, Pablo Picasso deserves a mention. He was committed to maintaining this skill and developing his whole creative life.

“Is this art or can I throw it away?”

This question is always followed by loud laughter in the art scene. The last incidence of something like this happening was on 20th October 2011 at the Museum Ostwald in Dortmund.

A piece of the work titled “When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling” (Wenn’s anfängt durch die Decke zu tropfen) by late artist Martin Kippenberger (valued by insurers at €800,000) was thrown away by a cleaner – it seemed to her, at least, that the artistic balance of the work had not been achieved. The artwork, which had been lent by a collector, consisted of a head-high tower made of wooden slats, under which a rubber trough was placed. The base of the rubber trough was covered with a chalky white layer.

Other incidences of “art cleansing” have been known to happen at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie and Berlin Neukölln. In 1986, the cleaning staff at the Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie threw away the “Fettecke” display by Joseph Beuys. The damages added up to 40,000 Deutschmarks and were paid by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1998, a 12m2 high painting of a rhinoceros on a building wall was disposed of, causing damages amounting to 80,000 Deutschmarks.

Remember: Only true art lovers know how to rate white chalk and fat properly.

In the case of the Beuys display, the aim was to create a piece of artwork that changed its colour and consistency, the way a person “lives” and eventually ceases to exist.

“What is the artist trying to tell us with this design?”

In modern art, it is common for art not to illustrate but to represent something specific. Even when this sounds very simple, implementing it is very challenging. Or would you, for example, contest the soothing effect of a green surface?

“Modern art? – I can’t see anything”

Modern art is a relatively unclear but colloquial and generally common term for avant-garde art in the 20th Century (source: Wikipedia).

In comparison to the illusionistic global concept, modern art differs from traditional forms of design, particularly in expressionism. Perspectives, colour reproduction, definitions etc. are intended to be completely subjective and seen individually by the viewer. This type of design is met with a great deal of opposition from conservative viewers, who would prefer to advocate the classic concept of art.

Recognition of abstract art, with its different styles, is down to collectors and museums that have acknowledged these artists and promoted their work.

“Art comes from ability.”

Young people and hobby artists especially frequently come up with excellent ideas. If it is inadequately or poorly handcrafted, a whole piece of work can be partially or completely devalued. Art is intended to last as a cultural product.

Independent of whether the artwork emerges at the end of a process or, as is usual in modern art, the art is the process itself, the buyer should be able to expect the artwork not to fall into individual pieces – quite literally.

This happened, for example, to a piece of artwork by Damien Hirst. His work titled “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, in which a tiger shark was preserved in formaldehyde, literally disintegrated. However, in this case a simple yet pragmatic solution was found: the artist created the artwork again with another shark and improved preservation techniques.

“Artists are nutcases!”

The job description of an artist is legally defined in Germany and specified in social insurance legislation for artists:

“Within the meaning of the law, artists are those who create, practice or teach music, performing arts or visual arts…”

Unfortunately, avant-garde artists who see and portray the world with new eyes are often dismissed as oddballs. It will be decades until the general spirit of the time realises that the artists initially referred to as nutcases were in fact progressive pioneers. But here, it is the same as it so often is in the art and culture scene: artwork lies in the eye of the beholder.


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