Debating Photography As Art

Is photography art?

Debating photography as art began soon after photography was born and has raged unabated ever since. It has surfaced on the Internet at where the vote stands at Yes – 66% and No – 33%. But who are they to say what is art and what isn’t.

Every good debater knows that discourse begins with an agreement about terms. Some might turn first to the definition of photography, but I believe that first we must agree on a more important question: what is art? After all, it’s hard to categorize something as art if we don’t settle this question first.

Most dictionaries define art as “…the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power…” or in words to that effect. It’s a perfectly serviceable definition, one that we can work with in debating photography as art.

Few would argue that photography is art if we used this definition. However, there is an ample community of those who argue that it falls short of art because skill is not needed. For centuries, beginning with Socrates, skill has been accepted by most critics as an essential element of art. Anyone, they argue, can pick up a camera and take a picture, but only an artist can pick up a paint brush or a sculptor’s chisel and create art.

Family Beach Portraits by Orange County Family Portraits

Debating Photography As Art by Mark Jordan Photography ©2015

To be honest, most anyone, even young children and animals can paint a picture. Is it art? Certainly, the artistic products of children are expressions of human creative skill and imagination, and are appreciated, at least by their parents, for their beauty or emotional power. Those produced by animals may be dismissed as the products of random impulses even if they exhibit beauty or emotional elements (think anthropomorphism). At the very least, they may be decorative in the same way that primitive and folk art are accepted as art for their utilitarian or decorative qualities.

Thus, in debating photography as art it may be argued that photographs taken by the unskilled may be likened to childish paintings. At the very least they are utilitarian and decorative, but still recognizable as primitive or folk art.

Debating Photography as Art by Orange County Family Portraits

Debating Photography As Art by Mark Jordan Photography ©2015

Have I convinced you that photography is art? Maybe yes, maybe no. I doubt if I can settle the debating photography as art, which has been raging for more than a century, with these few words. However, ask yourself this: What allows a painter to take paint and brush from the hands of a child and produce an image that is remarkable for its beauty? What allows a photographer to take a camera from the hands of a novice and produce a similarly beautiful image? Isn’t it the same? Skill.

So yes, the vast majority of photographs are simply snapshots just as the vast majority of paintings produced by the unskilled are simply pictures. But a camera in the hands of a skilled photographer can produce art.

Orange County Headshots by Orange County Family Portraits, Mark Jordan PhotographyJack Durish

About the Author
Jack Durish was born in Baltimore in 1943. He’s a decorated veteran, a sailor, a fisherman, and a grandfather; all the makings of a great storyteller. Jack earned a Juris Doctor as well as numerous technical certifications. An amateur historian, avid photography enthusiast and political commentator, Jack was twice published; a novella, Dream Pirates, and a technical guide, WordPerfect: Creative Applications. Rebels on the Mountain is Jack’s first full length novel. Jack has also produced two memoirs of his experiences in the U.S. Army during the period of the Vietnam War: Infantry School – A Soldier’s Journal, , and Vietnam – A Soldier’s Journal, both available on Smashwords. Visit Jack on line at

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Master Craftsman Photographer
American Society of Photographers
International Photography Hall of Fame & Museum
Orange County Photographer of the Year
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Debating Photography As Art

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