“Art isn’t something out there…It is not a “picture” of an artistic experience. It has to become experience itself, and in that sense it can only be earned by one’s own body rhythms, one’s own color sense, one’s own sense of smell, of light, of texture being so automatically articulated there is no possibility not to make a work of art, in the sense that it is impossible to think of any other choice.” Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
I visited the Sanchez Art Center and spoke with a photographer who was exhibiting his images in a special room, apart from the three announced exhibitions. His photographs were about 2.5’ to 3’ square, approximately, and he used a digital camera.
One striking black and white digital photographic image was a grove of trees, with large trees on the left and smaller and smaller trees in the middle going farther and farther away from the viewer. The resolution of each branch, each twig, each giant trunk, each cone, each plant, wherever found, near or far, was identical. There was no difference in resolution even though some objects were in the close foreground and some were in the distance. This created, through the appropriate use of technology, a surreal and flat patterned view of nature, as the eye normally is not able to provide that type of image, given that the eye (working for the brain) sees in three dimensional layers of decreasing resolution. Also, it was interesting to contemplate this work as my brain kept wanting to decide which parts of trees were in the “foreground” and which were in the “background,” and this automatic mental activity made me aware of my human need to somehow sort out the visual landscape as if I needed to walk through it and to conceptualize just how to do that most efficiently
I asked the photographer about his intentionality with regard to this dense view of highly and evenly (and mechanically) resolved big and mini branches throughout. I wanted to hear his ideas about how a digital camera “sees” and what his intention was in showing this to us in such an explicit, large image. I thought it would be a fun way to open a dialogue and then look at his other work (also digital). The photographer’s answer was, “Well I took the picture, so I must have wanted it to be that way.” I felt that his answer was either dismissive or that he really didn’t know what I was talking about.
So my question is: How much conscious intention is necessary or important to distinguish an object as a “work of art?”
For example, a snail can make a sparkly, sticky, wiggly quasi-transparent and partly white trail diagonally across a 5’ surface which, if the surface is dark, results in a beautiful, spontaneous, unfettered “drawing” directly from nature. My feeling is that the snail trail is beautiful and it is real and lovely in the material world, but it is not a work of art unless and until the snail turns around and looks at it, and says to itself, “Yes, I like this image; I will accept this one as mine.”