Unreal Nature

October 31, 2009

Outer Cause

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:55 am

Photographers, when you get accosted by painters who, in their innocence, revive that tiresome old argument that Photography is not an art (which is true), reply that Painting is not an art. This last is also true.

Painting and photography, sculpture and photography, pottery and photography are only media, vehicles, pushmobiles, laundry chutes that get an intangible something from one unfindable part of one man to an unlocatable part of another person. And the ineffable something is not art because to name it implies that art is an object, or a thing, or a biscuit, or a building that can be moved about and grasped with the hands. … Every creative photographer has to find out for himself that it’s the man behind the camera that is the artist, or not — wearisome as this may be to those who have gone through the process.

— (above) Minor White, from “That Old Question Again,” Aperture vol. 7, no. 1, 1959

Though I agree that art is a vehicle, I don’t agree that it is not in the object. I think Rudolph Arnheim has it right when he says (in Parables of Sun Light):

When the painting is finished, the artist vanishes from the canvas. Until then, the brushstrokes, not yet bound by the composition, call for an outer cause. They show that they have been put there by someone. But once caught by the rhythm of the whole, they no longer owe their presence to anybody. The picture admits our eyes but nobody’s hands.





  1. I fully agree with White that the medium is not art. I am not sure whether the person behind the person behing the camera/paintbrush/pen/whatever is an artist … I’ve been chewing on that one for forty or more years now, so won’t promise an early decision.

    Pushed to a reluctant definition, I would say that art “is”, and each painting or photograph or poem opens a window onto it. (Of course, it only “is” behind any particular window for the person who perceives it; for others it may well be that it “is not” there … but it still “is” in the larger sense … my head hurts.) Which fits with that Arnheim quote (for which, thank you).

    Times change … I would once (those forty or more years ago) have read your Minor White extract without noticing that he says “…from one unfindable part of one man to an unlocatable part of another person.” [sad sigh]

    Comment by Felix — November 1, 2009 @ 4:48 am

  2. So whose are those ancient glittering eyes?

    Comment by unrealnature — November 2, 2009 @ 7:32 am

  3. The big art critic in the sky, perhaps?


    Comment by Felix Grant — November 4, 2009 @ 3:02 am

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