Essay five Making Art New

Beauty in photography is a book of short essays by photographer and author Robert Adams, written as claimed in the inside cover by the quiet voice of a working photographer, artist and craftsman who has long thought about his endeavour.

Essay five “Making Art New” I found this to be the most difficult essay to digest it opens with the idea that we are all obsessed with the question “what’s new?” He spends a lot of effort explaining that art is not ever new that the subjects are all old and have been done many times what he asserts is that though the subject is old in great art it’s the example that is new and fresh. Like the remaking of an old story with a new plot that illustrates the same message, we can determine a new freshness by the new example it gives.

He quotes painter Mark Tobey observing that “No young artist can grow unless he emulates someone bigger than himself” making the point that if we stop at emulation we stop growing as an artist and that great artists are the ones who extend what they have emulated in their own work. He is disturbed by the obsession photographers have with revisiting old technology relying on the value of making contemporary work by doing the antique thing once more and whilst it can be charming it often ends up being a sad footnote to history.

He claims that the artist must take on influences but know how to dominate them and make work in the belief that he sees something that others do not.

Adams also believes that art loses its freshness over time and even the best work of artists like Matisse lose some of its power over time. He asserts, however, that photography is new, not because its a new technology or that the technology is always evolving but because photography is forced to do what art used to do and discover meaning from life. “Photography can always be new because the surface of life keeps changing,”

He asserts that some of the areas of life that could make photography fresh are ignored because of a lack of will to photograph it, he askes why are there so few images of normal family life or of working in industry or the experience of being a student. I wonder if this is still true, in the 21st centurary, everything seems to be photographed, the advent of the phone camera, the selfie and things like Instagram facebook etc have probably changed that landscape forever.

I enjoyed the quote he gives from A. Hyatt Mayor who wrote: “The really original artist does not try to find a substitute for boy meets girl, but creates the illusion that no boy ever met a girl before”. Adams asserts that “Photography is by nature on intimate terms with old familiar subject matter; all that remains now is for us to create new illusions in the service of truth”