Art and Culture of Photography – Without an Audience There is no Art?

©Darwin wiggett - Reflecting on the meaning of art.

©Darwin wiggett – Reflecting on the meaning of art.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about art. Maybe its just a mid-life crisis… or maybe because I make pictures, play music, do writing and finger rub foggy mirror hieroglyphics in the bathroom, I should know what constitutes art.

So what is art and what is an artist? Well… defining art is like trying to define soul… or spirit… or love. Entire books have been written on the subject. Several definitions are currently in vogue and are passing through the internet ether. “An artist makes art” and “Art is something made by an artist”. Hmmm….

When the idea of art is discussed further, the one thing that all the discussions had in common was the idea of connection. The art books I have read suggest that a creation is not art unless it meets an audience. Art has to be experienced by others for a connection to be made. Without connection there is no art. An example often cited is that a musical composition is just notes on paper. It isn’t art until it is performed for an audience. The extension for photographers is that our digital images, negatives, or prints are not, nor can ever be, art if we hide them away from the world. Creations you make must be shared. If, when shared, your work makes a connection with someone then and only then can it be judged as art.

So… if I make a drawing, write a song, compose a poem and just keep it to myself, it’s not art? The inner connection, spirit and joy of pure creation is not enough for a piece to be art? Does this mean that I can’t enjoy my own pieces as art because it’s not art unless I share? What about connecting back to yourself, does that not count? Unless I make an external connection with others with my creation, I will never produce art?

Author, Seth Godin has said “Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another.” According to Seth, art is personal (reflects the artist), is untested (original), and is intended to connect. My question lies in the third premise: is connecting with your self enough?

What do you think? Do creations need an audience beyond the creator to be considered art? Or should we just create for the joy of it, just like kids play… for pure joy? If we feel like sharing our creations then so be it. If we don’t then that’s just as valid. Do we even need to worry if what we do is art or if we are an artist? Are labels worth anything?

I would love to hear your thoughts – but be careful – by sharing you could be making art 😉

©Darwin Wiggett - Is this double exposure image now art because you have looked at it?

©Darwin Wiggett – Is this double exposure image now art because you have looked at it?

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.


  1. Stephen
    January 16, 2014

    Being my own audience is perfectly ok with me. I feel better when I don’t try to place labels.

  2. Mike Katona
    January 16, 2014

    I feel that people are to concerned with branding themselves or having others brand them as ARTIST, especially FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER.
    If your work is good and appeals to people then you will get the recognition that you are seeking.
    Yes, you can produce art for yourself. I do and I could really care less if anyone else ever sees a photograph that I have made. I only post my photographs on Flickr at the request of friends.
    But then I am a little different.

  3. Olivier Du Tre
    January 16, 2014

    It a very interesting question to ask. But a challenging one to answer. It’s a catch 22.

    We live in a world of ‘viral’-ity. And it would be wrong of us artists to rely on +1’s, likes, retweet and what have you to select our favourite work or the work we like to call art. Art doesn’t equal social popularity. Well that would be pop art. But is that good art? That’s the question. What defines good art? Who validates good from bad art? It’s a touch one.

    One can say if you never share, people won’t know about you. Yeah but so what? Is that such a bad thing? I believe you make art for yourself first. It comes from your heart. You are trying to maybe work out personal issues you might have through photographs. I know if I don’t photograph every week something isn’t right. Something nags on me if I don’t. I start to become pissy and annoyed. With other words I HAVE TO create something.

    Creating art is not some day job you can slack in. It’s so emotional is hard to put into words.

    But what If you cater to the masses what does that say about you as an artist? Do you still make art? It’s barely your soul you’re putting out there. I mean if you look at today’s gallery world? Do we need more colour long exposures of simple skylines printed on 60×60″ and mounted on aluminium. (Oh and stop making photos from the gondolas at San Marco square in Venice too) No! Please stop it already.

    There was this one photographer from Vancouver I so looked up to. But when I met him he was a complete pompous dick. So full of himself. He was doing what? Copying others. He wasn’t showing anything original. I left after talking to him for 5min. He was so superficial. But he is adored by galleries because his work sells. Which is another question. Does art need to be commercial?

    Sometimes I wonder if the gallery representation was a good idea.

    Look at Vivian Meyer for example. Her whole life she spent making photographs for herself. Nobody knew she was so talented. Until she passed away and some dude picked up that box of negatives. Now she’s a star and history books might have to be rewritten because unmistakably she is one of the greats of 20th century photography. I would rather be like her than some artificial creation by a gallery representative.

    • Mike Katona
      January 16, 2014

      Hear hear! And if I see one more photo of Slot Canyon or Arches, I think I will puke.

  4. Connie
    January 16, 2014

    It could be anything you want it to be. However, not the picture you posted, the tones don’t hit any mark on my art meter, but could it those colors were on my chart.

    Sometimes I can convince myself that even i can create art when I have completed a project whether in the kitchen or the sewing room or even when trying to teach myself water colors or photography.

    Sadly the world at large can be very cruel and sets many things into rigid boxes so we have to rely on being satisfied with our own perceptions. Clearly there isn’t enough information out there for anti emetics since there are still so many “puking” at whim.

    We all need to keep chipping away at the rock solid walls “created” by society at large if for no other reason than to let others’ creative light shine through and allow it to touch us.

  5. Charlotte
    January 16, 2014

    Labelling means nothing to a true creator of any form of art work, be it painting, photographs, poem, novel, etc. The connection with the creator him/her self, is a necessary condition for his/her creation to be created.However, each individual is different, therefore the connection from seeing a work created by someone else would be very different.

    The connection with others, however, is a necessary condition for a creator to be recognized by the society. So sharing or not sharing, is purely a personal choice.

    As an amateur photographer/writer, I feel blessed that I do not have to worry about if people like my pictures/writings. I do what I do purely out of passion. Still sometimes I wonder, if I had to pay my rent and food with my photographs/writings, would that change how I feel about what I do?

  6. Donnie
    January 16, 2014

    Unless your foggy mirror creations depict landscapes, then no, it’s not art. LOL! On the one hand, I don’t know why photographers get so worked up over this? Throw the concept of “fine art” in the pot and I’ve seen folks really get their shorts bunched. On the other, I admit I really enjoyed philosophy in college so I’m predisposed to enjoy Guy Tal’s blog who spends a lot of time contemplating these things. Bottom line for me is that photography is how I express my creativity and meets my need for an avenue of expression that uses both hands-on and mental abilities. It is not intrinsically necessary to me that others to see it to be enjoyable. Lord knows I have terabytes of files nobody is likely to ever see. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it when others appreciate my work- because I most assuredly do. Perhaps if photography was my livelihood then labels would be important from a marketing standpoint.

  7. Mike Blazek
    January 16, 2014

    Photography is like brush and pen to painter or chisel and hammer to a sculptor. It is a means to create or to capture a 3D reality or an imagination. Only human being is capable of labeling what feels or looks good or bad.
    It is simple, if photograph, painting, sculpture or architecture brings you to a stop for a second or two and you actually look and see. Then does it matter if it is called art? It is just another tangent in to another dimension we were not aware off. This time it happened to connect with more than one sole.
    Sharing once visions and connecting with others is what it is all about, we can call it art or whatever. It’s all the same idea.
    We only added a label which can be used in today’s society for means of attaching dollar sign and prestige.

  8. Florian
    January 16, 2014

    I agree with the majority here: It does not matter whether a photograph or piece of work is art or not. In my opinion too many people, especially photographers, are occupied with promoting and labeling themselves as artists. Why is photographer not enough?

  9. Kevin Boyle
    January 16, 2014

    I have always thought that the definition of artist as someone who masters their craft through time and practice. In my day job, I have spent not hours, but years mastering the tactics and techniques that I employ and while what I do isn’t “art” in a traditional sense, I honestly feel like I am an artist in that field.

    As a photographer, I see a scene and I do my best to capture not just the image, but the emotion the scene gave me by manipulating cloud movement, colour, and tones. If someone gets a different emotion or none at all from looking at the photo, that’s out of my control. I took the photograph for me and no one else.

    I have a hard enough time calling myself a “photographer” let alone an “artist”, but somehow, in my heart, I know them both to be true at some level… regardless of whether someone buys a piece or as Oli says “pluses” it or “faves” it. Until you print something up and physically hold it in your hand, it’s just a screen saver…

    In the end, if someone says they like my stuff, I’m grateful for the thought, but I certainly don’t care one way or another. One person’s artist is another person’s hack… all subjective.

    Keep the posts coming Darwin… love the discussion and contemplation that goes into people’s responses.

  10. Dawn Cook
    January 16, 2014

    I have been enjoying photography for many years, started with the black and white, darkroom and developing, mounting and the finishing touches. All the conrtol was in my hands, the creativity was my imagination. The passion was mine. Taking an idea from imagination and transforming it into a finished creation is art… is the process, the thought, the passion that the creator brings to the table. Art is emotional and subjective, and as long as you created it….it is art.

  11. Saulo Silva
    January 17, 2014

    When someone wastes more time trying to define art instead of making it, and trying to make it rocket science, pretending to be erudite and sole admirer of so-called “underrated, underappreciated” arts, I don’t even bother reading the second paragraph.
    The charlatan’s age never ends…

  12. Todd Wall
    January 17, 2014

    To me trying to define art is like pissing in the wind. I just shoot first and ask questions later.

  13. Marko Kulik
    January 18, 2014

    When you create an image, it’s Art.

    If nobody sees it, it’s still Art but it feels good when others also see it.

    It feels even better when others who have seen the work also like the work…..but this is certainly not required for the work to be ‘Art’.

  14. Jeff Cruz
    January 20, 2014

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Everyone has a different opinion. Here’s my opinion (I stress “my” 🙂 A tree doesn’t make a sound unless someone hears it. Just like everything in the universe there is a yin and a yang. If there’s nothing on the receiving end then how can it become a sound because sound is created in the mind. If there is nothing to receive then it is just vibrations.

    To me (I stress “me”) art is a collaborative statement or event. There is a creator and there is a receiver (yin and yang). I also believer the creator can also be a receiver. In the examples of art therapy the art created is also a therapeutic tool in the creation and/or enjoyment of the piece.

    To summarize, I believe art is created by the collaborative efforts of the creator and the receiver whether it is the same person or many people. Here’s a link to a YouTube video of performance artist Marina Abramovi which I believe is a good example of how art needs to have a creator and a receiver:

  15. Tori
    January 25, 2015

    Human beings like to categorize. They also tend to want things to be one way or the other; to live in a closed loop, without vague and indeterminate possibilities swirling around themselves.

    Art is something which is not so easily categorized and this extends to the question of audience, in my view. I tend to feel that art simultaneously requires an audience yet in order to become fully meaningful for an audience, art cannot be made just with an audience in mind. Part of what touches people about art, is the vision it provides of another world – a world that is not their own. The images, sounds, or thoughts of another. Good art, at some level, pulls people out of their doldrum and comfort. It provokes a disquiet that makes the audience stop and really consider how they feel.

    Making art with too much worry about an audience can undercut that very goal. The artist risks subverting the sense of “otherworld” in the art by trying to make it familiar to a presumed audience. This can result in art that has wider initial appeal, but no bite to it. Today in fact, some argue that the art is not even really about personal expression; they claim that the artist is obligated to serve the audience, to make the art for them, if they’re going to show the art in public.

    This thinking betrays a utilitarian mindset, of art as only a product to be manufactured to the specifications demanded of a “consumer”. But the utilitarian view is seductive because it is superficially sensible and pragmatic.

    Yet consider that some of the most affecting art of history, such as the works of Van Gogh, were created purely out of personal vision. Often without even the expectation anyone else would see them. Sometimes without even conscious understanding by the artist themselves. Yet these works were dramatically effecting on audiences who eventually experienced them, despite being made “without an audience in mind”.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      January 26, 2015

      Hey Tori,

      One of the best summaries I have seen to date about art and audiences! Well written and really thoughtful. Thanks for contributing.

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