At the CPA, we mentally divide workshops into categories, two of which are “craft” and “artistic development”. Most of the time, we have no difficulty placing a workshop in one category. Gum bichromate printing goes in the craft bucket. So does digital image editing. “Finding your Work” is artistic development.
We recently had a discussion about where to put workshops on such things as composition, two-dimensional design, color theory, and the like. Many thought they belonged in the artistic development category. I think they are important components of photographic craft. I say this because they can be employed equally well in the service of artistic and myriad other photographic pursuits.
- You can use the rule of thirds to sell Buicks or change the world.
- Chiaroscuro can enhance commercial portraits or deepen emotional connection in images with universal meaning.
- Josef Albers’ teachings on color interaction are equally useful in making art or doing interior decoration.
- Negative space can be as powerful a tool in creating arresting advertisements as masterful landscapes.
- Rhythm, repetition, grouping, pattern, interruption, tone, and mass are as applicable to wallpaper design as to abstract photography.
- Figure/ground confusion can create tension in postcards and edgy street scenes.
The fact that I think these concepts are orthogonal to art-making doesn’t mean I think they are unimportant to an art maker. On the contrary, treated properly*, anything that gives photographic artists control over the image they’re making can make for a more effective translation of their internal vision to the physical object that is the work of art.
However, I don’t want to confuse the more-or-less mechanical skills of conventional image design with the path or paths that impinge directly on a person’s growth as an artist.
As always, the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone, and have no bearing on those of the CPA.
*There is a danger in teaching craft, if its lessons are treated as gospel, rather than rules that not only can, but should be, broken in the service of artistic expression. It’s entirely possible that slavish acceptance of the rule of thirds has rendered banal more images with artistic intent than a considered application of the same rule has improved. This is especially true now that Lightroom and Photoshop have included rule-of-thirds aids in their cropping tools.