Is there something like "objective critisism"?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by LaFoto, Feb 26, 2007.

  1. LaFoto

    LaFoto Just Corinna in real life Staff Member Supporting Member

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    With two threads on "How to comment" (roughly) in the Off Topics and the very interesting discussions they provoked, I am coming up with yet another question that has formed itself in my head overnight. And since I feel that discussing this is NOT off topic, I place it here.

    I am wondering - and am asking those who know, i.e. those who read Fine Arts or Photography or something like that in uni or so - if there is something like "objective critisism"?

    Like when you first went into your classes and presented your work (assuming that students of the arts have to produce something to show), and your work was critiqued ... did your profs have something like a list of things they said everyone has to observe? Or if they did not say "have to observe", did they consistently draw your attention to specifics that they pointed out should be done/used/applied/whatever that are sort of "timeless" and "universal" to anything that is art?

    Or did all of you who actually read the fine arts (of whichever kind) mostly hear that there is no definition to things, that the spirit is free, that all of it is self-expression, that rules are no rules and only there to be broken etc?

    And did those of you who really read the subject and went into it thoroughly (be it paintings, sculpturing, photography ... all this), actually learn that all critisism is ever only subjective? Inherently so? Necessarily so?

    But then: why any formation? Why any university studies or classes at all?
     
  2. Torus34

    Torus34 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I would think that in photography, an objective discussion could be held on the technical aspects of a print. Questions such as 'Does the print fully exploit the range of white-to-black?', 'Is the focus as sharp as the lens can achieve?' and 'Is the horizon line level?' are far more objective than subjective.

    In general, the branch of philosophy known as Aesthetics must be considered when you go beyond technical questions/critique and begin to discuss composition, meaning, impact, etc. I should think that the 'Anything goes' attitude nicely rules out the need to use a better camera or lens or even, in the most virulent form of the argument, aiming the camera at all.
     
  3. The_Traveler

    The_Traveler Completely Counter-dependent Supporting Member

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    It is generally accepted that the more one 'knows' about art, the more subtle is one's taste and the more able a person is to distinguish 'better' art from the less good.

    By 'know' I don't necessarily mean formal education but familiarity with a greater number of works that allow appreciation for differing styles to grow. A child loves pictures with big obvious figures and lots of dramatic color while an adult may grow into a love of intricate, monochrome drawings.

    I've always assumed that my own taste in art was created by my exposure to different styles and my education, all this tempered by the basic traits of my personality that color all the rest of my character.

    .. may be more true than we like to admit. The technical characteristics of any art may be true but are meta-measurements, factors that we use because we don't have any real measures that can be objectively related to someone else with any real meaning.

    These meta-measurements are useful sometimes in defining either the success or the failure of an art piece but the underlying decision is based on these meta-measurements and something more important - one's own idea of beauty.

    If I think a photo is beautiful, all of the other meta-measurements like focus, color, etc. may be 'correct', but they also might be irrelevant.
    Tell me the positive technical characteristics, beyond timing, of this picture. - [​IMG]

    I've just seen a Jasper John's exhibit at the National Gallery in DC which is an interesting subject for criticism. Except for the ideas that he had and demonstrated with some degree of facility, there is absolutely nothing beautiful about his work, no technical skill, no beautiful content, zero. He is generally considered a 'modern master'. Then I walked across the street to the West Wing and looked at the Dutch realistic painters whom I've seen a hundred times. They had no new ideas, content was irrelevant but their abilities were perfection personified.

    Criticism is explaining that you love something and the technical reasons are the excuses that you give to justify that love.
     
  4. fmw

    fmw No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Objective criticism is only available for the technical aspects of the image. It is underexposed or not enough depth of field to show the detail of X part of the image. Criticism of artistic merit or emotional aspects would have to be subjective by definition.
     
  5. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    I beg to differ about emotional aspects being purely subjective. This is usually not the case in non-candid portrait work, where the emotional tone of a photo is largely based on pose.
     
  6. The_Traveler

    The_Traveler Completely Counter-dependent Supporting Member

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    Please enlarge on this. I don't understand what you are saying.
     
  7. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    There are a number of ways to criticise a photograph - none of them can be described as objective, though.
    Criticism always does one or more of the following: describe; interpret; evaluate; theorise.
    These are, to a very large extent, subjective activities but one would hope that someone who does a lot of criticism would at least attempt neutral subjectivity. But this often isn't the case.
    True criticism is quite a complicated process. The type of photograph and it's context has a bearing, as does the intellectual philosophy of the critic. Thus you can get Marxist critics, Feminist critics, Post-Modernist critics and a whole lot more.
    Each will come to their own conclusion about an image but despite the apparent complexity each is just commenting on one specific facet of the image.

    Commenting upon technical aspects is actually considered to be outside of the Critical sphere (by critics, naturally). This is understandable as to some extent an image and it's meaning is often independent of it's technical qualities. Although I believe that there are some photographs (and photographers) that cannot be subjected to criticism without taking the technical aspects fully into account.
     
  8. Ken_D

    Ken_D TPF Noob!

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    "But then: why any formation? Why any university studies or classes at all?"

    To make money of course!

    While there are some tecnical aspects of photography that can be critiqued such as exposure, lighting, color and choice of lenses to control distortion, everything else seems to be subjective and changes with the times. If they had todays equipment, would any of the old pioneers of photography have taken the same photographs that set the "standard" by which todays photographs are judged? What would Di Vinci have thought of Picasso? Art, and photography is an art, is dynamic, not static. IMHO many rules that pertained to photography even 30 years ago are no longer applicable in todays photography. A photo of an out of focus bride running down a garden path would not have been acceptable 30 years ago, no matter how well it was composed, yet today, in PJ style weddings, it is not only acceptable, it is desired. Who is to say what will be acceptable tomorrow?
    When I was younger, I heard a saying which I find fitting to this thread, "Those who can't do, critique", I would be very much interested in seeing some of the photographs these critics take.
    Many forums I have been on are inundated by what I call "Techno's". They are very concerned with the technical aspects of the Digital Camera's and carry this on to photographs, they dissect them down to their very components. To me the camera, be it film or digital, is a tool that I use along with light, to capture an image. If and when I make that image into a print, if I like it, I really don't care if the critics like it or not.


    Ken D
    Equipment does not make a photographer, Imagination and Knowledge do.
     
  9. fmw

    fmw No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Or lighting, or exposure, or composition or any other aspect of photography. Portraits have a technical element and an artistic one, like virtually any photograph. Go review the portraiture of Arnold Newman, my vote for the best portrait photographer that ever lived. Tell me then how pose is everything and how there is nothing subjective about how you would view his portraits or posed portraits by any other talented portraitist..
     
  10. Torus34

    Torus34 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    There's a 'middle ground' in non-technical [aesthetic] criticism. That occurs when the specific criteria isn't 'what I like' but rather a clearly stated 'yardstick'.

    As an example; when I look at a portrait, I consider such technical aspects as focus, exposure and color balance.

    With that out of the way, my #1 criteria can be stated as 'Is this portrait more than just a likeness?' In other words, does the portrait tell me something about the person?
     
  11. Aquarium Dreams

    Aquarium Dreams TPF Noob!

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    And why do blurry photos work today? Because it's so easy to make things crisp and sharp. It's a reaction to the way digital technology makes everyone a photographer. Lensbabies wouldn't be so popular if everyone's digital camera had a plastic lens and no automatic focus.

    I also wonder what photographers from our time future generations will hold in esteem? How are photographers today building on and reacting to photography of the past? After all technical considerations have been addressed, what's the standard for a great photograph? There are beautiful images being created with everything from all-plastic film cameras, old mint tins with holes punched in them, century-old antiques, and digital cameras that go from less than $200 for something to fit in your pocket to over $40,000 for a large format panoramic camera (and I'm sure someone here can pipe with something even more expensive)

    It seems to me that we live in an age of the niche, where someone who is talented about something as obsure as photographing nothing but 200 year old cemeteries with a pringles can pinhole camera can find an audience, be hung in galleries, publish in books and magazines-- all of those things that were at one time the proof of an artist's success. So what yardstick do we use now? Or why bother measuring it?

    For me, the important thing is to just continue doing it, to be dynamic, always continue learning and trying new things.

    And it's like Hertz said in one of the threads about critique, the people who post their photos do so for all types of reasons and people who give critique do do for all types of reasons. Maybe people would get more out of it if the forums were labelled: Sharing (just to show people what they have). Comments (tell the photog what they think of what they have). And maybe two levels of critique: Technical and Emotional/Subjective. Or maybe everyone can append their image with a statement, explaining exactly what they are looking for. Or maybe there could be another semi-private forum, that everyone can read but only people who have a certain number of posts can only post their photos for serious critique, just so people have poked around the forums long enough to know what goes where. In this hallowed forum, no monosyllabic responses will be allowed, or you're banned from the critique forum until you can learn how to use complete sentences.
     
  12. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    This sounds appealing and I'd be interested in participation on both sides of the critique.

    What do you think of anonymous posts/critiques?- Too wierd?
     

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