Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Are You an Artist or Craftsman?

As a photographer, do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?  A lot of photographers will likely say they think of themselves as both. I'm not sure how someone decides when they're being an artist and when they're being a craftsman. I'm guessing it has something to do with subject, that is, what they're shooting at the moment or the way in which they're shooting that subject.

For the purposes of this blog update, I should probably define an artist versus a craftsman.

An artist is someone who, by virtue of imagination, talent, or skill, creates works of aesthetic value. An artist is a person whose work shows exceptional creative ability. An artist can also be someone who is adept at a specific activity, especially one involving trickery or deceit, you know, like a con artist or a photographer who overly relies on image processing software to embellish, alter, modify, or re-create what they've photographed.

A craftsman (or craftswoman) is someone who practices a craft or works at a skilled trade and does so with great skill. A craftsman is an artisan, i.e., someone who practices a craft and is highly skilled in the techniques of that craft. Artisan, of course, isn't a word that's used much these days. It's a rather antiquated word which refers to a skilled workman or craftsman. When I go grocery shopping at Ralph's, for instance, they call the specialty breads they prepare, bake, and sell in the store "Artisan" breads. I suppose that makes the people working behind the bakery counter at Ralph's, "artisans." I'm not necessarily comparing skilled photographers to skilled bakers... well, maybe I am. Some might say being a skilled photographer is so much more artistically satisfying than being a skilled baker. Whether that's true or not I don't know. I'm not a baker; an artisan baker or otherwise. Since I don't bake, I have no idea if bakers find the products of their work as or more satisfying than photographers do.

When it comes to photography, I consider myself a craftsman and for good reason. I make my living with cameras in my hands. People don't pay me to make art. Not ever. Not once. Instead, they hire me for my skills and ability to snap the kinds of photos they want. In other words, when they're looking for a photographer, they're looking for an artisan, not an artist. That's not to say I've never snapped a photo that might be considered art. I think I have. Maybe even a couple of times. But, when I snapped those photos, my intent wasn't to create art. It was, as always, to shoot a good, skillful, photo... hopefully, a great photo. One which reveals my hard earned and much practiced skills and, to a lesser extent, my creativity and artistic sensibilities.

None of that is to say there aren't photographers who are artists and who pursue photography as purely an art form. Some of them even make a living at it. A few, very few, make an exceptionally good living at it. Personally, I would love to be a successful art photographer but the truth is there aren't many who can do that, myself included. It's not that there aren't photographers who are really good artists. There are. But like many artistic pursuits, only a few of them -- not many in the overall scheme of things -- manage to take their art to the top.  Many more, however, take craft to the top. It doesn't matter if the artist's art is painting, sculpture, writing, music or anything else. All of those artistic endeavors have their own great artists, albeit not an abundance of them. They also have many more craftsman and artisans amongst them. My guess is that more of them, i.e., those who make a living or some part of their living from artistic pursuits, are better defined as craftsman compared to the few true artists who manage to do the same thing.

The pretty girl at the top, naked and smoking a cigarette, is Cytherea. I used three lights: A main light modified with a Mola beauty dish positioned camera right, and two strip boxes, either side from behind. I set the beauty dish a little low to add a bit more overall drama to the shot. The strip box coming from camera right is cranked up to add more obvious highlights. I did that for the same reason I kept the Mola low.


Bill Giles said...

Definitely a craftsman, if that. I'm certainly no artist. I base my conclusion on the fact that I seldom have a vision for a shoot. I work by someone else's vision and try to recreate their work. Occasionally, I stumble in to something new and different, but that's usually the result of collaboration. I remember reading Ansel Adams "The print" and particularly where he talked about "making the print match my vision". I don't think that you can truly be an artist if you don't have a vision of your creation.

Ernie Rice said...

I'm more of a craftsman, but I feel that a craftsman also has more than the average amount of artistic ability. Creating something requires some sort of preconception of the thing, which requires imagination, which is part of artistic ability. I know there are craftsmen out there who have very little art in them, but it seems to me that they make or build things that others have previously produced.

I sometimes manage to create something very artistic, but mostly it's the artesian bread. :)

Victoria - Washington Boudoir Photographer said...

An artist or craftsman? I'm gonna have to go with Bruce Willis and classify myself as a meat Popsicle. Great shot of the smoking girl, I recently got some striplights in and have been looking for a way to use them, thanks for the inspiration!