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Why General Culture Is a True Asset for Creating and Understanding Artistic Photographs – Part 1

Creating and understanding artistic photography is an emotional act for both the artist and the appreciative observer.

Modern culture is the perfect landscape to immerse yourself into the artistic worlds of different photographers. Indeed, some works may leave you feeling indifferent at first. However, over time you will grasp the full meaning that the photographer has left behind.

Whether you are creating or understanding the artistry behind photographic works, a satisfactory level of general knowledge is necessary.

This photograph of a real landscape in the United States is evocative: its symbolism is very strong. The imagination wanders.
This photograph of a real landscape in the United States is evocative: its symbolism is very strong. The imagination wanders.

The Emotional Act: The First Reading

When an observer looks at a photographic work for the first time, it is always the emotional side that will dominate judgment. This is what I have learned since my beginnings as fine art photographers.

When I made documentary photos for stocks, books, or magazines, the viewer’s judgments were always made for editorial reasons. Basically, the purpose of the photographs proposed by me illustrated a subject. My photographs had to revolve around the content itself, with a lesser focus on artistry. Only the technical criteria of composition, framing, and sharpness were considered.

When I chose artistic photography as a professional activity, I chose to deliver unique messages so that I might share my vision of the world. I quickly realized that the famous technical criteria are only secondary in the eyes of an artistic observer.

The choice to love and appreciate a photographic work is present for only a fraction of a second.

I have often wondered whether this “first-time” approach was enough for me as artistic photographer and whether it was fully satisfactory. I think the answer is yes. Indeed, this type of long-term judgment becomes far too restrictive. It is best to focus on the emotions one encounters during the first meeting between the observer and the artwork.

The Emotional Reading: An Overly Restrictive Approach

If an observer is content to appreciate photographic works solely by considering his emotions and feelings, he will quickly become weary. Indeed, all the choices he makes will create a closed universe that will quickly become very small. He will come to live in a vacuum.

This weariness can cause a feeling of bitterness, and the judgment of such an observer will eventually deteriorate to dullness. It loses objectivity because of the lack of perspective on the surrounding situation.

Ultimately, the observer living solely by his emotional impulses will exist in a world where everything is identical and where the nuances have disappeared. This is what I call a world without flavor.

It is the anti-thesis of art and especially that of artistic photography.

In trying to better understand viewers who appreciate my works and purchase them, we realized that I have an extraordinary asset.

General Culture: A Way to Appreciate Art Photography More Broadly

When an observer tries to understand photographs of art, he will appeal to his knowledge, his memories, his past, and his skills, but especially to his general culture.

General culture is the body of knowledge that is important in a society and relates to different intellectual domains. Culture is acquired through personal curiosity and experience. This is an important notion when you are present in a society because it allows you to communicate with the greatest number of people. General culture refers to the public knowledge most individuals acquire without specialization in a certain field.

To judge and appreciate an artistic photograph, an observer can do it only in relation to what he already knows.

Recognition of different photographic elements, appreciation of composition and framing, understanding the message transmitted by the photographer through his work can only be accomplished through the general knowledge of the viewer.

The broader the general culture and experience, the more an observer will be able to appreciate and understand photographic works of art. Indeed, his level of culture will allow him to better understand the staging of certain details and their relationships with other elements. He will be able to easily decrypt second degree messages present in the compositions.

With an elevated level of culture, an observer is not only more emotionally capable of judging a photo, but he also is inclined to appreciate the work overall. He will be able to taste and revel in the symbolic power of artistic photography.

The Symbolic Power of Photographs

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