The Art Purist
Did Picasso Use a Palette Knife?
  By Don O. Thorpe

Is there an acceptable format for the creation of art? Maybe you don’t run into that question very often if you are a traditional artist who paints with a brush or draws with typical drawing mediums. But what about the “painting” artist who uses an air-brush or a stencil? Or what about a sculptor who uses a bulldozer or sticks of dynamite? And what about (here it comes) a photographer who uses PhotoShop?

There are many artists who use non-traditional tools to create their works of art, and this is mostly acceptable in the art community. But if a photographer uses digital software, his work is somehow inferior to those purists who create photographs without the use of PhotoShop.  I often read reviews of photography that parenthetically remark, “and this photographer did not use PhotoShop to create these photographs.” As though that were some sort of “Badge of Courage” and measurement of quality and creativity. My answer to that evaluation is, “So what!”

It seems to me that the final image is all that is really important, anyway. How the image evolves is immaterial, because a painting or a photograph is a personal creation of the artist and should be formed or altered to fit the feeling and intent of the artist not a preconceived notion of technique. Most people do not object to a painter moving a tree or a building, or changing the color of an object or scene being painted. So why does a photographer have to keep his hands (digital) off his photograph?

If Salvador Dali had been encouraged to keep his objects “pure” and realistic, we would have been denied some of the most unusual paintings of the last century. Whether you like Dali’s strange interpretations doesn’t matter, what is important is that he felt the freedom to create what he saw in his mind and soul.

One of my esteemed colleagues once told me, after looking at some of my PhotoShop altered photographs, “Anyone can make a photograph look good if they pump up the color and contrast.” What would he say to Ansel Adams or Minor White, both of whom used various techniques to increase contrast and enrich the blacks in their photographs -- “Anyone can make a photograph look good if they pump up the contrast and intensify the black.” Nonsense! A photograph, like a painting, has many facets that create impact. The most important of these is the design and composition of the elements within the frame, and the inherent "feeling" of the image.

Over the past several years I have gone to great length to produce abstract and Impressionist digital photographs that are produced “in camera” without the manipulation of digital software.  I do not do this because digitally manipulated photographs are inferior, I do it because the images that are created entirely in the camera have a different “feel” to them than those created with software alterations. This does not make the PhotoShop images less valuable, only different. And, Heaven forbid, sometimes I include photographs created with several techniques in the same exhibit.

Which leads to the conclusion that it is not how you create the image but how the image appears and communicates that counts. Matisse, Van Gogh, Pollack, or Picasso certainly did not hold to conventional ideas of putting the paint to the canvas, nor did they restrict themselves to the purist or norm standards of their day. So PhotoShop, or whatever, you are welcome here.




Photography Don O. Thorpe 2009