ooo... Interesting topic!
Personally I don't think we'll ever come up with a single "right" answer, but it is still very worthwhile to discuss and think about this topic, and most importantly to question your own work.
My own personal view is that anything can become art simply by being called art. When Matthew said "If you print it large enough, or put it in a big enough frame, what can't
be called art?" my response would be "nothing".
To me, art has nothing to do with aesthetics or beauty, and everything to do with communicating a message in a creative manner.
What differentiates a poster advertising Campbell's Soup from Andy Warhol's silkscreen of the same subject? Its certainly not the aesthetic value. It's the message and the purpose. The advert is trying to get us to buy soup, the artwork is making a statement about the artist's view of society. Simple.
So how does this relate to photography? Well, the same things apply for me.
An excellent example can be found in Christian's recent post
containing a link to the World Press Photo Awards
Take a look at the 50 Years Gallery
there and you'll see the top photographs for the last 50 years (Note: contains numerous disturbing images
). All of them are incredibly powerful and moving photographs and would be considered art by many people (certainly by me). But how many of them are aesthetically pleasing or could be called "Beautiful"? About none.
But just because I think art can be anything
, doesn't mean that anything can be good
art. Andy Warhol's soup can might be regarded as being "good art" because at the time it made an important social statement and it was pushing the envelope in regard to the whole questions of "what is art?", but if I knocked up a picture of a can of soup and stuck in on my wall and called it art then is it good? Of course not, because my only message is "look, I can do something that looks like Andy Warhol"
But I also don't want to dismiss all beautiful images. There is nothing at all wrong with photgraphs (or anything) being aesthetically pleasing. In fact, usually it is really nice, and I really enjoy taking beautiful images myself. But my point is that the beauty in itself has no bearing on whether or not it is art. Especially in cases where the beauty comes from the subject or the scene and is not a function of the photographer.
Which brings me onto my second definition - that of an "artist".
While I think anyone can make art, I don't think everyone who makes art is necessarily an artist.
Just as there can be considered a difference between a "carpenter" and a "craftsman", I believe there is a similar difference between a "photographer" and an "artist". The term "artist" (or "craftsman") simply refers to those few at the top of their trade. The pioneers who are taking things in new directions, for whom the tools of their trade are simply extensions of their brain, who can express their thoughts effortlessly and see things in a scene that normal people just don't see. I'm not sure if anyone
can really call themselves an artist - at least not until they are already recognised as being one by many.
So finally, with regard to my own work (and my own definitions), I think that I do make art from time to time, but I'm certainly not an artist. I'm just a photographer.