Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The definition of artistic terms

I read, via link over at Chantal Stone's blog, about various dos & don'ts of photography. One that came up was on the use of the word image for photography (a definite don't). I disagree - part of my internal editorial style. That got me thinking about how I use and define certain terms relating to visual arts. Here's my take on a few:

Picture - Covers pretty much anything in the rest of the terms. Not necessarily art, though. Really any form of "flat art": be it paint, collage, photo etc. would be a picture. A simple holiday snap would also.

Art - I'm an "art as noun" type at heart, so art is the product of a creative process. It's non-judgemental, art can be as much bad as it is good. Fine art definitely has to be good.

Painting - picture produced with paint, obvious really. Generally picture painted could be called art.

Photograph - the product of capturing light through a lens on a capture medium. Before digital, I'd have said "on film" and I'm not sure of a collective for sensors & film as media. Not necessarily art, not necessarily and image.

Image - to me, this is art as a representation of something real. A carefully worked photograph transforms into art, usually this means an image is the end result. The raw picture from the camera (the photograph) isn't really an image by this definition.

Whilst not necessarily strictly by the book (dictionary), I'm thus attempting to use a degree of categorization to be able to talk about various issues in specific ways. Maybe it's time I dug out Roget's to come up with some extras. This is certainly a tricky area to land precise terms for specific meanings as there is a continuum of representation from the simple holiday snap right through to the most creative works of photographic art.

Part of the reason I try and mix up the terms I use stems from the way I was taught English language at school: variety was always the benchmark - the ruthless avoidance of repetitive words and phrases (except in maybe a rhetorical style). As a result I like to try to use language in precise ways. In some ways that is also the scientist in me coming to the fore.


  1. Martin, hello

    Sorry to post off-topic on your blog (readers of "The definition of artisitic terms" please talk amongst yourselves for a moment).

    I enjoyed your response to my comment on The Online Photographer today.

    ["Seeing the incredible advances made in digital imaging technology, why assume that a low-noise, small sensor with detailed, silky captures at ISO 800, 1600 and above is impossible?" because noise is due to random electrons captured by the sensor. Small sensor sites = more noise. There comes a point when the laws of physics get in the way.]

    I have an Epson 4990 scanner. It's a great device, but has certain limitations, of course, due to the laws of physics, I guess you could say. Dynamic range is one of them. But wait! SilverFast has (yes, I'm a Yank, "has," not "have") upgraded their scanning software, and now my scanner can produce better results in two samples than it could in four, previously. And my scanner may continue to "improve" as time goes by (wasn't that a Britcom?), despite some niggling laws of physics.

    Likewise, the Hubble Telescope sees better, and the Mars rovers are still operating, since they have transcended the limitations originally built into them by clever software engineers.

    Whether done by use of new materials, slight-of-hand software, or whatever, I can't help but believe that the cameras of the near future will make current models look as archaic as the puny devices of just a few years back that fetched a thousand dollars for screen-resolution images.

    Imagination doesn't trump physics by ignoring it, but it eventually finds a way to take advantage of it.

    Cheers, and I liked your portfolio, especially the Fallen Tree. Not likely taken with a digicam, right? The detail fairly jumped off my screen. I may check myself for ticks...


    ---Steve Gillette

  2. Interesting point on the march of technology & processing. i can't help wondering, though, how much better hubble would have been with a proper mirror and a large array still sees further: next step is going to be a large space array, I bet. Again, physics in the way.
    As small cams get good at 800, 1600 EI, large sensors will be into 6400 or more and still win out. One thought I had, though, was whether cameras would move to instant dark slide compensation: take a snap of the noice immediately prior to capture for offsetting.

    On the other note - interesting you like Fallen Tree: an image that works nicely in a small size but I was ultimately disappointed at the size I wanted (14"). Sensor resolution began to let me down (and less than perfect technique).

  3. Addendum: Here we go...Eastman Kodak has announced a new filter system to supplant the standard Bayer filter. Low-light sensitivity is improved 2-to-4 times. Incorporation into new cameras expected as early as 2008.

    Link (Yahoo News, "Filter pledges crisp photos in low light"):



I like comments, especially constructive ones.
Comments get emailed directly to me before publishing , so if you want to get in touch drop a comment.
All comments moderated by me before being published, keeps the spam at bay.