Different Definitions of Art and Photography

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To test the validity of the statement ‘All the arts are based on the presence of man, only photography derives an advantage from his absence.’ (Bazin 1967: 13), one has to first define what is meant by art. This commentary is going to examine this statement using three different definitions of art, Bazin’s, Tolstoy’s and Arnheim’s definitions.

Andre Bazin believed realism lies at the heart of art, and that art is the process of reproducing reality. He believed that an artefact should ‘helps us to remember the subject and to preserve him from a second spiritual death’ (Bazin 1967: 10). He saw art as a way of immortalising mortal things; he compares painting and sculptures to the ancient practice of mummifying in Egypt, ‘to keep up appearances in the face of the reality of death by preserving flesh and bone’ (Bazin 1967: 9). I agree with this point that Bazin made, this power that artefacts posses, making long lasting legacies, can be seen all around us, take the great pyramid of Giza, built sometime before 2000 BC, was symbol of Pharaoh Khufu’s power and greatness, and although Khufu and the society of ancient Egypt, as a whole, are long gone, their presence is still felt today through the pyramid. However it should be noted that many artefacts would lose their meaning if they are not accompanied with some kind of explanation, such as the Stonehenge, although a brilliant piece of art, no one knows what it stands for. Therefore we can conclude that one cannot simply immortalise himself, so to speak, by creating a piece of art.

Bazin explains that the only motive of plastic arts, at its creation, was to recreate reality, however they failed to do so, and only produced an illusion, ‘photography and the cinema on the other hand are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence, our obsession with realism’ (Bazin 1967: 12), and therefore with the invention of this superior form of replication, the plastic arts should cease to exist. Although this is an overstatement, as artists still make paintings and sculptures, there is some truth to it, since the invention of camera portraits, sculptures of men and realism in general, in plastic arts, has become less and less popular, and therefore now artists invest their energy towards other motives, which plastic arts can satisfy. For example before the invention of camera, a family would get a painter to draw a family portrait, so the family would not be forgotten in the future, however after cameras became common, a family would have their picture taken as it produces a more clear image.

Bazin also believed plastic arts are flawed, as they are the reproduction of an original subject based on the subjectivity of the artiste, and his interpretation of the object. Therefore a painting or a sculpture is a replacement for the object, where as a photograph is a detail for detail reproduction of the object, based on a non-living mechanism that does not influence the reproduction based on its subjective thoughts.

Reproduction of an object through painting is based on the artiste’s perception, and his ability of illustrating it. It is influenced by his subjective mind and the decision he takes when recreating the object, the shade of colour he chooses, the size of brush he chooses or type of canvas he uses. At the end all we have is his expression of the object and nothing more, where as photography is a relationship ‘between the originating object and its reproduction, an intervention of only the instrumentality of a non-living agent. An image of the world is formed automatically, without the creative intervention of man.’ (Bazin 1967: 13). Therefore a photograph produces objective reproduction of the object, where as a painting recreates the object with the influence of the painter and provides a replacement for the object.

Forms of art, other than photography, are more about the artiste himself rather than object that is being reproduced. Artiste often use...
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