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Art Appreciation Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

18 February 2014

A post by David Hawtin in the Fine Art Photography Resources group we monitor on LinkedIn made an impression this morning. He shares a gallery with his wife Melody, who is a painter, and had noticed, "I much prefer it when artists come into our gallery rather than photographers." He continues:

In general I notice that artists are much more generous in their comments, they may not like the art but may appreciate certain aspects of the style, use of color or texture and brush work. Conversely I often avoid talking to photographers as they often find it difficult to appreciate photographs. It seems it is either right or wrong, [according] to a set of rules they have learned in a camera club.

You don't need a camera club to devise a superficial criteria for judging other people's work. Any old prejudice will do.

But how do you learn to appreciate art?


One of the goals of our Saturday Matinee series is just that: to broaden our appreciation of the art. What really matters?

If you've been following along, you've already seen an array of subjects from distant ships to random passersby on the street to knickknacks in your living room. And we've barely touched the topic. There isn't an approved subject for photography.

Photography may not be show biz but it's public art subject to sniper fire if not a barrage of tomatoes. You need a thick skin to show.

You've also seen a wide variety of gear. On occasion a photographer will discuss how the sudden discovery of what a wide-angle lens can do inspired him. Or how a pocketable camera opened up new worlds. But gear isn't the focus of these interviews. For one street shooter, we had to go frame by frame through an almost random close-up of his equipment to discover what he was using. He never talked about it.

Instead, they talk about their work.

Some shuffle through a stack of prints. Others flip through their books. There's a gallery or two in there, too. They stop and tell a story as they appreciate with some humility the composition, as if it were given to them.

They are telling you what matters.


As Hawtin points out, this isn't how the discussion usually goes these days. It is easy to find a pretext to be dismissive. Some technical defect is always handy. But those pretexts would rule out the work of many of our masters, too.

We have from time to time been amused in the company of show people by their extravagant affection for each other. The only thing we've ever seen that comes close to it is how people talk to their beloved pets. Lavish praise, professions of love.

But show business is a hard business, full of rejections. An avalanche of positive affirmation may seem superficial to an onlooker but it's meat and potatoes to performers. It keeps them going.

Photography may not be show biz but it's public art subject to sniper fire if not a barrage of tomatoes. You need a thick skin to show.


Hawtin encourages fellow photographers to "be encouraging while helpfully pointing out what may not have worked or may improve future photographs, always being gracious and understanding. It is fine, even in this world, to be different, to see things as others don't."

We'd suggest putting the criticism on hold and asking a question or two, engage in a discussion. You may find an interesting story behind the image or the approach the photographer took.

One that might inform your own work, in fact.

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