U3A Cambridge 2020-21 Photography: The Telling Image 4 – Art and Photography Quiz

No title, Andy Goldsworthy, c. 1980s

As part  of module 4 we set the class a challenge to look at the examples of work by 30 living photographers/artists using photography and decide whether they considered them to be ‘art’,  ‘not art’ or ‘don’t know’.   The  thirty works were by: Don McCullin, David Hockney, Daido Moriyama, David Bailey, Herlinde Koelbl, Joel-Peter Witkin, Harry Gruyaert, Graciela Iturbide, Sebastiao Salgado, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sally Mann, Art Wolfe, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Andy Goldsworthy, Hendrik Kertstens, Paul Hart, Gregory Crewdson, Sarah Lucas, Tacita Dean, David Yarrow, Olafur Eliasson, Jimmy Nelson, Rinko Kawauchi, Hellene van Meene, Viviane Sassen, Aida Muluneh, Mahtab Hussain, Oliver and Daughters and  Thomas Peschak.

Joel-Peter-Witkin, Harvest, Philadelphia, From Songs or Experience, 1984

Twelve people from the class of 27 sent in replies rating the pictures. Of the 360 views expressed: 51% saw the pictures as ‘art’; 34% rated them as ‘not art’; and 15% said ‘don’t know’.  Most people had mixed opinions: one person rated all the pictures as art; and one person didn’t see any of them as art. The highest score for any picture, Andy Goldsworthy, was 11.  The top rated six pictures in order were by: Andy Goldworthy, David Hockney, Joel-Peter Witkin, Art Wolfe, Don McCullin and Sebastiao Salgado. Joel-Peter Witkin’s picture was the only one to score zero ‘not art’ votes.

The joint highest scores for ‘not art’, 9 votes, went to Nan Goldin and Herlinde Koelbl.  The top (or bottom) six pictures were by Nan Goldin, Herlinde Koelbl, Olaf Eliasson, Paul Hart, Graciela Iturbide and Diado Moriyama.  For ‘don’t know’, scores ranged between zero for five pictures, e.g. Hendrik Kertstens, and 4 for Mahtab Hussain.  The closest to an even split between ‘art’, ‘not art’ and ‘don’t know’ was Viviane Sassen with 4/5/3.

Nan Goldin, Nan one month after being battered 1984

I don’t know that we can conclude a lot from this exercise.  We were aware that asking people to judge just one image is rather unfair; and suspected that the pictures least likely to be seen as ‘art’ are those that suffer from being shown out of the context of a wider body of work.  Marcel Duchamp held the view that a work may be made, but it only becomes art when it is viewed, the viewer makes it art. In these terms it might be argued that the responses to the 30 images will reflect what the viewers have chosen to make art, not what is art by any objective criteria (if such things exist).

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