Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Evaluating Art and Photography

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.28.53 AMI’ve been thinking a lot about how we as viewers evaluate art and photography since my online art history classes started up last month.  For the past few years year I’ve also been moderating a Facebook Photography Sharing and Critique group that role always has me thinking about the critique / evaluation process.

So with that said….these are some of the variables I think we all need to be considering when evaluating / critiquing art and photography.

Lewis Hine Exhibition in Bratislava by Patrick Keough 2012

Lewis Hine Exhibition in Bratislava by Patrick Keough 2012

There are certainly many similarities when it comes to art and photography, however compared to painting photography is still in its embryonic state. Photography has only been around for approximately 175 years and painting has been with us for over 35,000 years.  Many of the rules of composition are the same, in addition to cultural / social catalysts for making images. The mediums are different, but the artists and photographers working in these various mediums still are influenced in some way by a variety of external and internal stimuli.

We must consider the emotional and/or intellectual response of the viewer to a given work of art and/or photograph, the CULTURE/SOCIETY in which the art/photo was made, the emotional state of the ARTIST/PHOTOGRAPHER, the TIME the art/image was created, the PLACE it was made, the PATRON or COMMISSIONER of the art/photograph, the POLITICAL climate of the day, and of course how we the viewers of art and photography analyze and decipher art and photography created during another time.


We must remember that art has a different meaning for us today than it did when it was made. Cave paintings and Egyptian art are perfect examples of this. Cave art was created as ritualistic symbols to insure successful hunts and Egyptian art addressed issues of death and the afterlife.


The same goes for photography, although the time line is not as long. Take Lewis Hines Child Labor Documentary work for example. He considered his photographs as tools for social change and the people looking at his pictures during the time he was making them had a different response towards them than we do in the year 2016. We can’t relate to them in the same way as someone from the turn of the century because Child Labor is no longer a major issue to us here in the US as it was back then. There is an artistic element to these photographs even through they are pure documentary images and I look at them as powerful historic documents more than tools for social change.

lewishineWe see these art forms from a different perspective due to our cultural backgrounds and the times we live.

There are still many other questions to ask…

How does the viewer respond to a given work of art or photograph? Negatively, positively or apathetically. Is a negative response a bad thing when it comes to the viability of a work of art or photograph? Does art have to look like something? Should it have an external reference or recognizable subject? Should it make us think? Should it tell a story? Should it cause you anxiety? Should it make you feel good?

European Month of Photography Exhibition in Bratislava 2012 by Patrick Keough

European Month of Photography Exhibition in Bratislava 2012 by Patrick Keough

There are so many things to think about and take into consideration when discussing what art and photography truly is. I do feel as though there are some common denominators when it comes to evaluating and appreciating art and photography on a deeper level.

Effective use of the visual elements of design and organizing principles is one of those key variables when it comes to evaluating art and photography.

The EXPRESSIVE and/or INTELLECTUAL CONTENT is another important factor to analyzing art and photography created through the ages. We must also consider ORIGINALITY, UNIQUENESS, and UNIVERSAL APPEAL and the power of the art to ENGAGE the viewer at multiple levels.

As you can see there is no one size fits all for art and photo criticism.

One thing is for certain…art and photography makes us think in new and creative ways.


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