I’ve recently been buying a watercolour magazine which has the most amazing watercolours in it from artists around the world.  The first edition I bought had an image which was so photorealistic I thought that it was a photo, until I looked closer.  But such pictures, technically brilliant as they are, and in fact way beyond anything I can produce, make me ask, what is art?

If, for example, I want a picture of a scene and I want it accurate, why not just take a photograph?  I don’t quite see the point of trying to create an exact replica of a place since paint takes much more time than pointing a lens.

No, art brings something else.  And whilst I admire mastery of medium, I don’t think we should forget what you can do in art that you can’t do with a photograph…mind you, with photoshop the line blurs!

With an original piece of art you can:

  • arrange your own composition (remove a tree, add a mountain)
  • Capture the character of a person, scene or event
  • Improve the dynamic range of a scene
  • Create a tonal or harmonious balance
  • Create concepts and ideas that never exist in real life (MC Escher, for example: or Dali)
  • create cartoons

I find in my own work that one of the oddest things is to complete a piece, then enjoy looking at it myself.  I have no idea quite how pictures come out of my pencil/pen or brush.

I guess that for me the major difference between art and a photograph (a bit like the difference between art and illustration) is the ability to affect the emotions of the viewer…but then again, I know people who would disagree with that comment! Art is quite closely related to the answer to the question: what is illustration, but has a freedom to it.

Abstract art probably goes the furthest in this direction, since its purpose is not to depict, but to stir feelings about the thing it is attempting to depict.  Further, art tries to explore how it is possible to represent three dimensions in a two dimensional way.

Art encourages us to explore beyond the original idea that is being depicted.  It needs the response of the viewer to make it art and interpret it, and so it becomes a symbiotic relationship which transcends time and space between the creation and the viewers of the piece at moments afterwards.

Of course, before the advent of a camera much art was purely that, trying to capture images in much the way that a camera is today.  It’s only with the advent of the camera that art has been given the freedom to explore these other aspects.

In our image soaked world, art must do something else besides just capture a moment, it must capture the essence of that moment and stir the emotions and memories of the viewer so that they can enter into that moment.