Is street photography Art?
You hear the question now and again. Discussions often follow. The answer is clear: NO. Street photography is not Art. Nor are oil painting, sculpture, body paint, or jazz music or literature, Art.
Even urinals are not Art.
The question is wrongly posed. Art does not refer to any specific objects of the world like those produced within photography, painting, sculpture, writing, singing, or whatever you can think or. There are, however, certainly people within all these areas that are capable of producing Art.
E.H. Gombrich says it in the first sentences of his big book The Story of Art: There are no such thing as Art. There are only artists.
That seems to be it in so far as we speak about a type of activity. Art emerges thought the making of it. It does not belong to a type of objects, but to a special kind of successful activity that in some lucky instances produces what we call objects of Art.
What is special for this kind of activity? Here are some answers that do not characterise the making of Art:
Art is not lazy, it is not unengaged, it is not casual, it is not easy to do, it is not stupid, it is not without training and knowledge, it is not without experience. Art is not without talent. It does not have to be rational. It is not without curiosity. Art is not average. It is not painless. It does not even have to be irrational.
Within street photography, or within photography as such, it leaves you with a very small group of people capable of doing it. Much smaller than I could ever have imagined. You see it when people do it right.
That is, if you have the special capacity of seeing and know what to look for.
Back to the question: Is street photography art? No, it is not. But certain street photographs made by luck or by un-luck, or by other means, from a small group of people, certainly can be.
E.H. Combrich has no problem with it either. On page 624 in my version of his big book he shows Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Aquila degli Abruzzi. Taken in Italy in 1952.
Beneath the short text accompanying the image, is written one word: Photograph. It is not possible to state it clearer than that.
© Knut Skjærven
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