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Thread: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

  1. #1
    Magog's Avatar
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    An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Bear with me on this one, guys, as I'm trying to articulate some fairly unstructured thoughts. This is sort of prompted by Graham's "What is stopping you progressing" thread.

    I've always thought of photography as a spectrum: at one end there is "image capture", simply recording what is there, be it landscape, sports or whatever. Then you gradually move to enhancing/refining the image through post processing, whilst still retaining the basic object of the image. Somewhere along this line you then have the "abstract" image, which is often selecting a part of an object/scene, or different perspective, which has the ability to give a pleasing image. Finally you head to the creation of an image, which may be far removed from an original source, or composed of elements of many images. (This is my mental calibration - I may be way off beam).

    Whilst there are hard techniques/rules which underpin the whole spectrum (Exposure, lighting, basic camera handling etc.), it seems to me that the further along the line you go, the more there is the added something, the "artistic eye". The ability to see something which is not yet there, if you like.

    I've always put myself down at the image capture end of the spectrum, on the basis that I was pretty rubbish at Art in school. I think that I can, over time, gradually make progress with the "hard" rules of photography. I've always thought, though, that going beyond that demands something that is either in your nature or not.

    Fair assessment or not?

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Hello John. What a loaded question you have. I think that with the arrival of cameras that are affordable to most people,the possibility of taking as many photos as you like, and the ease of processing the images right at home on a computor without the use of the chimical processing put the entire processus of the photographic job at your fingertips. Now, do I know what is required to make a good picture from the technical point of view? I think that can be learned. I would say that the artistic eye can be developped as well. Is it not why we have art school? As far as learning the art, from what I can see, we buy the camera first and learn whit it. As anyone here gone to photographic school?

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    RustBeltRaw's Avatar
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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    I think two different types and levels of skill - artistic and technical - is a more accurate expression. I see the divide as being able to see the image (artistic), and to capture the image (technical). For instance, you can identify the artistic need for a shallow depth of field, then switch to the technical side and open your aperture to get it. You can see that your subject needs additional warm light from a certain direction, then you have to translate that into another gelled flash or whatever. The way I see it, your technical skill (which can definitely be taught, but many people have limited patience for) can be as much an obstacle to getting an image as not being able to envision that image in the first place.

    On the artistic side, teaching the photographic eye is certainly possible, within limits. There will (and should) always be room for one's opinion of an image, and finding a good image is essentially the act of predicting those opinions. I don't think there's any predictable stylistic progression, or a "right" way to learn, but I think composition rules are a good place to start. More because they force you to think about the arrangement of everything in the image than because they're hard and fast guarantees of a good result (which, frankly, they aren't). There will always be an unteachable component, but one's eye can definitely be improved. The best way I know of is to look at tons and tons of photos, and try to articulate in great detail what you like about them. Obviously, those words won't convey the photo's impact, but it forces you to organize your thoughts about the aesthetic success or failure of a shot.

    Granted, this is all probably BS, since my artistic skills are still way behind my technical abilities. As a primarily digital photographer, hanging out with traditional-media and film photographers artists is a great way to keep your ego in check.

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    John: I firmly believe that the artistic eye can be developed, I can draw a straight line if I have a ruler and it will look like a straight line anything else I try well a new born child could do better. The "eye" to me is compostion, how we see things then how we see them through that viewfinder. I was out with a bunch, if you asked them what they saw they would say it was, grey out, fog, snow on the ground, lakeside and cold. So I showed them a image of the area with nothing done, asked if this was what they saw and they said yes. I then showed them the same image but with the clouds worked to add some drama to the image and said this is what I saw, it was there for you also. The only difference was I saw what else was there. I read a quote by a photographer named Minor White he said "One should not only photography things for what they are - but for what else they are". That said it all to me, so the artistic eye, is that "what else". What is seen in the mind before you push that little button to take that "what it is".
    Hope that makes some sort of sense.

    Cheers:

    Allan

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Well, the more I shoot, the less I think I'll ever been seen as "artistic." But part of the reason for that is that I am moving increasingly toward a personal view of what I want to see, and paradoxically, most folks seem to see "artistic" as something quite limited. If it doesn't look like the things that they've been told are artistic, it can't be art. Fine. Then I'm not interested in creating art. But I am interested in capturing something that represents what I see that isn't the thing that I could just buy a postcard for. If the thing that resonates with me at a concert is the candy wrappers on the floor, I am more interested in capturing that than in some colored-light paeon to some fool with a guitar. If it doesn't speak to anyone else, I'm OK with that.

    But, if it does manage to speak to another soul, I can get feedback on what I should have done to make it better that is of value to me. I've just become sick and tired of listening to the critiques of people who know that you're supposed to follow the rule of thirds or of a more sophisticated buffoon who has learned to say "negative space," all the while failing to have a vision of what they want to do, just a bag of tricks of how to do it (whatever "it" is.)

    For me, if I can capture the feel of a particular event or place, the proof of my success is that it isn't like the next place or event that I shoot. The whole obsession with "personal style" is every bit as offputting to me as is the insistence upon using compositional "rules" without paying any attention to the thing you're trying to capture.

    But both of these things are the stock in trade of folks who've decided that they are engaged in "art." I don't think I'm particularly adept at expressing myself photographically, but I've pretty much given up on folks who think they've got the corner on that market. If you can find some folks who "get" your work more often than not, hang onto them and get their input every chance you can. The rest is useless -- unless, of course, you're trying to make a living at it. Then, find a way to explain that your kitty pictures are exemplars of negative space using the rule of thirds, and laissez les bons temps rouler.

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    I believe that the "Artistic Eye" cannot be taught, but it can be sharpened through training. The "Eye" is either within you or it is not. I do not believe you have to actually be an artist to have the "Eye" nor do you have to have the technical photography skills. But, without the technical skills you will not be able to produce the end results that your "Eye" sees.
    I think I just stated the same thing as Lex, kinda.

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magog View Post
    Finally you head to the creation of an image, which may be far removed from an original source, or composed of elements of many images.

    ... it seems to me that the further along the line you go, the more there is the added something, the "artistic eye". The ability to see something which is not yet there, if you like.

    I've always thought, though, that going beyond that demands something that is either in your nature or not.

    Fair assessment or not?
    I agree that photography has a "spectrum" and it is also many-faceted as well. In my opinion, the spectrum" is not as linear as you have described it. Therefore; some people have "the eye" probably from birth or at a very young age, while others have developed it later on.

    One thing that will help anyone who wants to develop the ability to visualize a picture that isn't there yet is to study art, and photography in particular as it pertains to our discussion. Learn to analyze photographs with a critical eye. When you visualize a photograph, think about how you would set things up to make that image.

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Count me in on the side of "can learn artistic eye". For many years, I taught cartography and also (later on) web application development, both of which require similar skills with an artistic eye.

    Usually cartography students take the class and then move on. But, I'm pleased to say that some of my students became cartographers in what they call "real life". More than a couple of them had no eye at all when they started in my classes.

    The interesting thing is that while all of them had a pretty good artistic eye by the time they finished my classes, I can still tell which of them has drawn a particular map or developed the design for a particular web site, which says that those artistic eyes are all quite different though thoroughly acceptable in terms of the talent behind all the eyes!

    So, if you think you don't have an artistic eye, I'd recommend getting a book like National Geographic's Complete Photography and work through not more than one chapter each week or two weeks. The point is that looking repeatedly at really good images where the photographer explains some of them will give you similar skills for choosing what and how you photograph different kinds of scenes and will help you develop your artistic eye.

    An important aspect of this is to remember that what you see as important, interesting, etc., can be very different from what I see as important or interesting.

    As an example to my students, in one photography class I took, we were assigned to show motion in a still image. Most of the images used as examples were things like people on skateboards or vehicles (mostly cars) cars where the camera was tripod mounted and the car traveled in a path while the photographer followed the car resulting in a smeary background.

    Instead of an image like the samples, I chose the north end of a southbound horse whose tail was shooing off flies in a field in New Mexico. It turned out that about the last six inches of the horse's tail always was horizontal to the ground when the rest of the tail was totally vertical so that the tail took on L shape at that instant. It took me about 10 shots to get the look I wanted, but I'm pleased to say I got a 10 on that assignment! ;~)

    I'm jes' sayin'....

    virginia
    Last edited by drjuice; 5th February 2013 at 04:02 PM.

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Artistic ability is like every other trait. There is a distribution that follows a bell curve. A few of us will have none, a few will be extremely gifted and most will have some ability in the middle range. The vast majority can be trained to improve on what they have, and a few may even be able to be educated sufficiently to approach the gifted range. Some can never be trained to be capable of the normal level. But exemplary artistic ability can never be taught. The top one one thousandth of the population will be really good but the top one one millionth will be the ones we aspire to be; but never can. They are the Tesla/Einstein/Newtons, Usain Bolt/Michael Phelpses, Shakespeare/Tolkeins, Mozart/Beethoven/Louis Armstrongs of this world.

    Personally, I try to avoid the big clangers as I am firmly in the normal range (I hope!). On the other hand; I do have that soul; so maybe if I sold it to the devil?

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Thanks for the input folks. Some food for thought...

    Interesting comment from Tom, and others, about what speaks to you, or what means something to you. My wife and I went to two photographic exhibitions in London last Saturday; the Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year. We both agreed that whilst we were in awe of the imagery at the wildlife exhibition, we both connected more with the landscape images. I guess this is because we can relate to mountains in Scotland more than penguins in Antarctica; we could see ourselves taking images inspired by one, but not the other. (Hang around under an ice floe waiting for penguins??????).

    I do find myself analysing photos more often, so I guess I'm subconsciously taking some of the right steps. I've got some tutorial DVDs to go through, and plenty of inspiring images on here. We're trying to take more photos, and be harsher on keeping/junking the results. So I'll keep plodding away, and maybe share the odd image on here for input.

    I'll pop over to the Nature?Architecture section now and start the ball rolling...

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    I do not know if there is any qualitative artistic difference between seeing and capturing a landscape image pretty faithfully or knocking yourself out in photoshop creating a barely recognizable permutation of the original. I put a lot of faith into the choices that go into the original capture. Choosing a location, a specific frame, a point of view, a depth of field, etc. Without an aesthetic sense, the product of all that work will just be a collection of unrelated pixels. Now, going into photoshop without an aesthetic sense, well, we have all seen the results of that. So, in my opinion, one's aesthetic sense underlies everything one does from start to finish.

    Your question is whether that sense can be developed. Well, maybe there is a genetic basis, but I think a lot of it is learned. I give a lot of credit for what I do to the famous artists I have enjoyed since my teen years: Renoir, Miro, Cezanne, Pollock, Monet, Rothko. When I recently saw a Renoir exhibit, I noticed the way all the details were blurred helping to create the soft, beautiful portraits on display. I thought that explained to me why I enjoy blur and bokeh in photography. Having seen it done so well in great paintings, I can allow myself to enjoy and explore that quality in the photography of others and myself. Rothko's red paintings. I think of them often when I am viewing images of sunsets, particularly the more abstract kind. The masters like Rembrandt. I enjoy seeing the great lighting work of some of the portrait photographers and seeing a similarity. Because of my sense of the importance of my art education, I encourage you and others to hang out in museums. I always loved the work of Georgia O'Keefe and then I saw the flower photography of Sue Bishop. That opened my eyes to some possibilities. The more I am aware of the creative work of others, the more I can rob, steal, combine, and blend it all into my own approach.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Carefully said, the answer is obviously yes, as even an untalented artist like me can get excellent images that are planned rather than pure random chance mixed in with a bit of luck.

    While I agree there is a technical and artistic component, I don't agree that they can be separated as they both have to fit together to produce a final product. I also feel that there is too little attention paid to the pre-visualization stage of photography, where the photographer recognizes the merit of a particular scene. Without that a good image is often blind luck. I also find that there is too little said about "working the image"; any creative endeavor has an iterative component and "working the scene", whether it is a nature scape or a studio shot is part of the creative process.

    I also find that a lot of people don't pay enough attention to the post-processing stage. The image straight out of the camera may look quite ordinary, but much like a gemstone, an image will not reach its full potential until it is cut and polished in post. This final stage is always required produce an outstanding image.

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    William W's Avatar
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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magog View Post
    . . . I'm trying to articulate some fairly unstructured thoughts. This is sort of prompted by Graham's "What is stopping you progressing" thread.
    . . .
    I've always put myself down at the image capture end of the spectrum, on the basis that I was pretty rubbish at Art in school.

    Perhaps, in light of Graham’s thread, you should have a look at really and truly WHY you were “pretty rubbish at Art in school.”

    I know absolutely why: "I was rubbish at learning French, when I was at High School”

    ***

    Quote Originally Posted by Magog View Post
    An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?
    Yes - of course you can learn it.


    WW

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Hmm – ? ? ?
    Are there several responses here which are confusing "ability" (i.e. 'talent' with which we are born) and using that as a premise to answer the question?

    And then, are also several responses also suggesting that in the end (i.e. an accumulation of talent and learning) that there will be some “better at it than others” – and that this is the answer to the question?

    These are not answers to the question.

    ***

    The question (as I understand it) is not about how 'much better' one or other of us might be at 'seeing things artistically’ - but rather: IF the skill can be learned.

    And it can.

    WW

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Quote Originally Posted by tbob View Post
    Artistic ability is like every other trait. There is a distribution that follows a bell curve. A few of us will have none, a few will be extremely gifted and most will have some ability in the middle range. The vast majority can be trained to improve on what they have, and a few may even be able to be educated sufficiently to approach the gifted range. Some can never be trained to be capable of the normal level. But exemplary artistic ability can never be taught. The top one one thousandth of the population will be really good but the top one one millionth will be the ones we aspire to be; but never can. They are the Tesla/Einstein/Newtons, Usain Bolt/Michael Phelpses, Shakespeare/Tolkeins, Mozart/Beethoven/Louis Armstrongs of this world.
    A concise description, Trevor, of the reality that we will always have neither equal abilities nor equal potential but, with education, enthusiasm, motivation, and determination, we can always improve. And, John, the fact that someone "was pretty rubbish at Art in school" means little - many people, including some world renowned in their fields, did not develop their talents until later in life. The artistic "eye" is not simply "something that is either in your nature or not", rather it is an ability inherent at various levels in all humans, so it must be capable of improvement by learning and practice.

    Philip

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    I am firmly in tbob group of fervent followers in that we are all born with different strengths and abilities and visual art is one of them. Regardless of how gifted you may be you still need to develop that gift to fulfil the potential. Some people have been extremely gifted but were not in tune with the fashions of their time so unfortunately their gifts were not recognised until many years latter. (I would like to think this is the problem I am having).

    However I am certain we can develop what ever potential we have. If you want your photography to appeal to others the simplest way is to understand the current fashion and try and see your photographs as someone else would see them. I think looking at other peoples photographs and working out why you do or why you don't like them is an invaluable way of improving you own EYE.

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    In any case, you'll have to develop your purely technical skills in camera handling and PP to be able
    to express what you visualise. Looking at others' work will help in seeing and recognising what makes
    an image appealing/effective, but then you'll need to be able to copy these techniques in your own work.


    And wrt. to 'being pretty rubbish at Art in school': I suppose that means in high school/secondary school?
    I didn't find that the most inspiring environment to learn anything artistic, especially not at an age where
    most have yet to learn the value of boring exercises, some to be repeated ad nauseam.

    That's not to say that I appreciate boring exercises for themselves, in fact, the less the better.
    But sometimes they are useful and even needed (music, martial arts, in fact every time you need to develop
    a semi-automatic reaction).

  18. #18
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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    I don't believe in talent and I don't think that the artistic things can be taught in a manner that someone has the knowledge and pass it to others. The artistic eye is inside us and the question is if we have the willing and discipline to develop it.

    This "development" however can can be given a push (accelerated) by someone who has already developed it either by discussion (you can call it teaching) or "studying" his/her work.

    Another important parameter is probably if someone is lucky enough to benefit from various stimulus even if he/she doesn't know it especially as a child. My thought is that unfortunately the human psychology is far to complicated to understand and that's why there is something we call "talent".

  19. #19
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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    I think "the artistic eye" starts when we are young and are more inquisitive of the world around us. As we get older, our vision of our surroundings changes, it sometimes blurs by us depending on how we live our lives. If we travel to and from work in the dark, or we travel by underground transportation or even driving we see less of what is really there. Two people in the same car, one the driver and one the passenger, which one sees more of the world, Can't really say?

  20. #20

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    Re: An artistic "eye" - can it be learned?

    Hi John,

    Can an artistic eye be learned? Are there any hard rules to follow in Photography?

    I believe an artistic eye can be learned. This will mostly come from observation. The more you observe and the more you are prepared to learn from others the more you will get a “feel” for artistic “balance”. Learning from others will mostly be learning from the Masters. I believe all great painters were instructed by some Master. All great architects were taught by some Master. All great musicians had a Master. Observation as to what the Masters do and how they do it will create your own feeling for the art and you may end up being a Master yourself.

    Hard rules in Photography do not exist – aside from the fact that if you never press the shutter button nothing will happened. Let us rather say there is a lot of guidelines in Photography, to be followed. There are guidelines in composition to be followed. The “Rule of Thirds” for example, is not a rule as such but rather a guideline. There are scenes where the “rule of thirds” simply does not work. Guidelines as to form, colour, contrast, patterns, lines, etc.

    Yes, I believe you can improve your skill as Photographer by observation and following guidelines.

    A great South African artist once said to an amateur painter: “The problem is, you look but you do not see. Don’t look at a Baobab, see what a Baobab looks like”.
    Don’t look at the world around you – see the world around you. Don’t hear the music – listen to the music.

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