Intentionality in Creation of Artworks

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.”

5 thoughts on “Intentionality in Creation of Artworks”

  1. The issue here is not whether the photograph qualifies as art; it is. Your insight into its various aspects touched on areas the photographer was not aware of, or has not considered. This is a good example of how criticism completes the work of art.

      1. The issue is whether art is a value free category versus a term of praise. According to George Dickie’s Institutional Theory of Art, an entity qualifies as art if 1)it was produced by a human being, and 2)it was held up as candidacy for appreciation by a member of the art world (including the artist). Notice this definition does not depend on exhibited qualities, or how it looks. Whether the art is good or not is another question. The photographer’s work is art, because he intended it to be, and it was exhibited in an art gallery, meeting condition two. His bewilderment regarding your questions meant he was a not very insightful artist, but an artist nevertheless.

  2. Every photograph’s personality can be characterized by some point in a spectrum between reliance on technical proficiency and anticipation of a spontaneous event in time, to be captured. The ability of the photographer to achieve that balance as an imaginative statement, is the difference between ‘art’ and photo-documentation (In my opinion).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *