Jonathan Jones and his 'soulless, superficial' view of photography
Figure 1: Baptiste 2016. Paris Photo Fair 2016 at the Grand Palais.
Falmouth University Flexible Learning week 8 section of Informing Context highlighted art critic Jonathan Jones and some of his views about photography, views highlighted by the record breaking cost of Peter Lik's "Phantom".
Jones posits that photography is not art but a technology, that the camera makes it possible to make images available to millions – perhaps to imply that photography is less valuable, is the air we breathe less valuable because of its abundance and availability? Jones further describes the photograph in a gallery as “a flat, soulless, superficial substitute for the painting”. The first part of Jones’ argument falls prey to the seemingly obvious, art is not limited to paintings, art encompasses a variety of visual work under its umbrella. Art is also technology. It’s a technology in the same way photography is: they employ mathematical concepts, knowledge of science, light, colours, they also borrow from the environment, history, culture, philosophy and literature, use different tools, paints/inks, fabrics/paper, clay/metals/glass, and chemicals. Jones has tricked himself into believing that art is not technology and photography should not be classified as art because of its use of an advanced instrument. Perhaps Jones views the creation of art as superior, an exclusive entity, void of all forms of assistance and technology, except for the artist’s mind.
The misfortune of Jones is his insistence on defining what is art, the undefinable, his tragedy is mixing emotional attachment, conditioning and preference – something we all can relate to. The moment emotion is involved, objectivity takes a little step back and what you see is what you want to see. However, we cannot throw Jones under the bus without throwing ourselves as well. Society has moulded the mind of Jones, our consumption of art and the price we are willing to pay for it, have inevitably spook the senses into a constant state of revolution. Those with large bank accounts and a penchant for the ‘not seen’ forces us to define and redefine art by the price paid, leading to fame and infamy at the cost of its innate context taking a backseat.
Jones is a disgruntled idealist, his frustration is symbolic of the chaotic world of art, its non-neutrality, its organisation and disorganisation, its umbrellas upon umbrellas that cannot keep the rain at bay. The painting was the first technology before photography came into being. The painting was discriminating, elitist, photography expanded our knowledge of the painting, democratising it and everything else that can be documented. By all means, we should not be trying to diminish photography’s influence and potential with comparisons that suggest inferiority. We should be elevating it for preserving, disseminating and distributing knowledge to humanity in the most democratic way in the most artistic manner befitting the artist.
One can argue as well that a painting is only possible with its use of tools, the application of technological knowledge. An artist sketches, paints using different colours, use light, shadows, the artist frames its subject the same way a photographer frames his or her subject. The photographer with the camera as her tool, produces colours, shadows, light, she is not different with her intentions from the artist, the only difference is – photography cuts down the time in which the photographer can document what she sees. Her skills are largely based on her ability to capture her subject and the context using her technical and conceptual skills, her knowledge of the arts and science. The artist captures his subject using the skills he has learnt in the course of his profession.
Anyone can paint but not everyone can be a great artist and likewise anyone can take a photograph but not everyone can be a great photographer. Art is not and should not be defined by the amount of time or the tools which the artist use to produce something that is considered worthy to be in a museum or gallery. Anything that has a presence on a wall, a table or any space is art, it is up to the viewer to decide whether he or she likes this particular art or not. To tell the masses what you think art is continues to be an opinion, a discourse for debate where every individual has the right to define his or her idea of art without the critic implying his or her definition to be most true. Art is a black hole, it consumes everything around it – the junk, the precious, the good and the bad – art’s black hole is indiscriminate. Art can be anything, nothing or something to someone. What we are actually debating is not what art is, but the levels of sophistication within its umbrellas.
Dada is art.
JONES, Jonathan. 2014. The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/dec/10/most-expensive-photograph-ever-hackneyed-tasteless?CMP=fb_gu#comments. [Accessed 17 March 2017].