Is art more truthful if it’s pretty?

Recently, a friend sent me a link to a photographer’s work that he thought was “cool”. I love him and respect him dearly, but as for photography, we come from different places. I know for him, “cool” is as deep and profound as he can get. I’m not being insulting. As he would say, “It is what it is” , and I honestly understand what he means.

I had a look at the work. While I thought some of the images were interesting, I thought they were very “stock-like” in their execution. Very colorful, evenly lit from corner to corner, very well composed, very thought out in terms of their overall style. I am a photo editor by day, so I see all kinds of imagery. These did not really seem very different.

On further look at this photographer’s bio, I saw that he had some nice endorsements from some well know photographers and magazines. Kudos for him! Did it make me feel any different about his work? No. I felt the work was very decorative. Flat, lifeless. What did it show me about the world that I didn’t already know? What was it telling me about the person behind the camera?

Am I being too cruel? The work did made me question beauty, or if art should only function on level that was only decorative, or easily accessible. Would this make someone more apt to display it on their walls, more so then if a piece made you think, made you feel, having to look at it everyday, changing the subtlety of its meaning? Would you believe it more, or believe it less if was darker or lighter or called into question life and one’s existence? Would you believe it more if it gave you a different answer everyday?

Published by Keith Goldstein

Photographer, husband, dad, and passionate cyclist. Lives and works in New York City.

9 thoughts on “Is art more truthful if it’s pretty?

  1. Me, im not much of a rule follower. I love contrast, blurred lines and drama in a photo. Its funny how a small change in angle can change the whole look of your photo. So im not sure if art is more truthful if its pretty but a there is always another way to showcase work, besides beauty is still beauty no matter how many ways you shoot it. Thanks man.

  2. Very well written! But. Some may do so (to please?) and others simply don’t give a cent. Some may have to (or feel they need to) and others don’t.
    I understand your point, but isn’t this part of the wonderful, manifold field of photography? There is no photograph like another and even among the styles, they differ. Your street style differs from Matt Weber’s, for example and yet both of you do street.
    However, I don’t think you’re cruel. As it is absolutely fine for everyone to take/process photographs as it pleases, it must at the same time perfectly fine for everyone else to see these photographs in a completely different way. And your way to criticise is – to me at least – a quite polite and respectful one.
    Me, I always look after the photographs that capture me. There is no ‘trust’ or ‘belief’ therein. They either catch me or not.
    Surprisingly enough, I remember quite a few ‘stockish’ photographs that I really liked. I cannot see a specific preference apart from the one to processed (i.e. not SOOC) photographs.

    1. I guess I am in the camp where, sure, who doesn’t want recognition for what they do, but I mainly do photography first and foremost for myself. I wan to share what I do and hopefully meet like or not so like minded people along the way. People who are open to discuss and share their imagery and thoughts about what they do. I believe in the sharing of ideas, even different ones, can help alleviate bias, accept and understand different ways of thinking. Sure doing work for pure beauty, there is no fault in that. But doing work just to please an audience? I think that’s wrong. You open yourself to the whims and fancies of others. Everyone experiences life differently. That’s what makes us unique. That is the kind of art and expression I want to see, hear, and read.

      To perform for others? Life is theater enough!

      1. True enough.
        “You open yourself to the whims and fancies of others.” this is what many a pro realises only after a few years of doing business. And it still surprises me (read it lately from Zack Arias, Ming Thein and some more) to see pros struggling with it.

  3. what a great post. I follow you and ‘another NY street photographer.’ To me, you both have completely different styles and I love them both. At any given time, I like what I like– just like everyone has their own style or their own perception of what is good photography. Doesn’t it make you wonder, though, if that is really their own style, or do they just think that kind of photography sells?

  4. Thank you Loisajay. Yes, I sometimes wonder what is their style, or are they doing something that they know will be accessible by many? After many years of soul searching and making images, editing images, I get a feeling in my gut when I know if someone is being honest, true to themselves. You can tell after awhile. I know so many photographers, commercial ones, good ones, who never pick up their cameras unless it’s for money. They’ve long forgotten their passion, their love, just to make images for themselves. It’s sad…

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