Art with a Capital A


What is art? Who is an artist? And most important, do I lay claim to that title for myself and my photography?

Is it possible to define what art is? I’m not sure. Art is subjective – as with the concept of beauty, determining what is art does indeed lie in the eye of the beholder.

When I think about art, my mind immediately creates two distinct levels: Art (with a capital “A”) and art (with a small “a”).

Art and Artists, with a capital “A”. This is Art with serious purpose, with intellectual and historical underpinnings. This Art often explores dark emotions; themes of life and death. It exposes corruption and prejudice. It speaks for the down-trodden, the disenfranchised. It is a mirror, forcing us to confront inequality and the nature of our society.

It poses questions about spirituality, mortality, our place in the cosmos. Deep thinking; big questions; multi-layered. It speaks in metaphors and allegories. We are often uncomfortable in its presence.

This type of Art is important; it is discussed and studied and critiqued. It generates art movements; attracts followers. People collect it, argue over it and write about it. It stirs controversy and seeks to make an impact.

And then there is art, with a small “a”.

This is my kind of art. The art I create and with which I surround myself. My art is about individual creation; about answering that yearning to make something that is mine. That brings a small bit of beauty to my world. That teaches me to look closer and see further. It is small and personal. There are no big questions being answered or even asked. I do it because it brings me happiness; it stimulates my mind; it fills my days with meaning. I want my art to be pretty; to be accessible. To simply be beautiful.

Do not misunderstand. It is not my intent to judge, holding one as better than the other. And I am certainly not saying that meaningful Art cannot be beautiful.

Perhaps Art and art are simply opposite ends of a continuous spectrum. A spectrum that represents the creative urges of all human beings: that impulse to bring forth something that did not exist before. Both are needed. Both have meaning and purpose.

I suppose this distinction between Art and art exists only in my mind. Perhaps I do not feel deserving to claim the title of Artist, with a capital “A”.

But I do claim “artist”. And that’s something, isn’t it?

Written for “Find Your Eye: Journey of Inspiration”


Posted on November 1, 2011, in Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I think you’re spot on when you talk about there being a wide ranging spectrum between art and Art . . . . art of any kind is definitely in the eye of the beholder. For me it’s feeling a connection to a piece or having a reaction to something (good or bad). Not quite sure where I fit along that spectrum with my own work but this year I started to embrace the word ‘artist’.

    • Kathryn,
      I realize this distinction between “Art” and “art” is of my own devising – that all art has its own beauty and purpose and value. And I suppose this distinction doesn’t really serve me – but the first step is recognizing that it exists.

  2. This is a wonderful post Brenda.
    I truly enjoyed reading it.

    • Lisa,
      I’m not sure if I adequately captured what I wanted to say about the complicated subject of “what is art” – so I greatly appreciate your comment.

  3. Aaaaah…I could have written this exact same post. What is an artist? Who? What does it mean to wear that hat?..that title? I think it’s something that comes from within…which – of course – is the hardest work of all. It’s about love.

  4. Interesting! I agree that art and Art are so subjective & difficult to define.
    When does someone who dabbles with creating images become an ‘artist’? Who knows!

    • Leanne,
      I suppose the act of creation is the moment when one becomes an artist. The trick is recognizing and accepting the title of artist – even when we feel our dabbling doesn’t deserve that title.

  5. Great exploration of your definitions Brenda, it’s good to recognize how you are setting things up in your mind. I’m so glad that you can claim yourself an artist, with or without the capital A. 🙂 I believe “Art” and “art” are all the same, so in my mind, claiming one is claiming it all. Keep thinking about this topic, let me know if you write more! I sense that there is more to come here.

    • Kat,
      Intellectually, I know you are right – that these distinctions are internal definitions that I have created. But they are still difficult to resist. I suppose it partly comes from not liking or understanding much of what would be considered “Art” and feeling that I need to justify my desire for art that is “pretty” (to my eye) – beautiful for its own sake, without a deeper meaning.
      I appreciate the opportunity to explore my mental thought processes around this subject.

  6. What a great post, Brenda. And hurray for declaring yourself as an artist (no quotes required!). My humble opinion on the whole thing is that the capital A distinction is decided by others, not by those who create. I think we are all just looking for a way to make sense of our lives, in the little a way. At least that’s what I hope. Thanks for getting my brain thinking this morning!

    • Jen,
      I’m sure you are right – that my internal distinction between “Art” and “art” have been fed by the opinions of others. I admire the artists that create art that serves a greater purpose. I just want to surround myself with and create things that I find beautiful – not necessarily art that explores deep subjects or raises significant questions. Does that make me shallow?

  7. Brenda, I don’t think liking and wanting to create things that you find beautiful is shallow at all. I find that much of what you wrote here really resonates with me, though I could not have articulated it so clearly. In my humble opinion, you are an artist, with or without the capital A. You apply your own inner vision to raw photographic materials to create images that are original and very beautiful. That’s art by my definition.

    Hm, I guess I should go write my own photo journal entry for this lesson.

    • Lee,
      I know in my heart that you are right – how can beauty ever be considered shallow? It is my brain, not my heart, that deals in these distinctions between “Art” and “art”.

  8. Wonderful post! I very different words, you’ve said pretty much the way I feel. And great that you do claim to be and artist, even if it has a litte ‘a’, that’s just technical.

    • Laurie,
      This was a hard post to write so it is good to know that we share the same feelings about this question and its answers. And yes, it is a big step to claim “artist” – regardless of whether it is capitalized or not.

  9. Brenda, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about Art vs. art. I guess, for me, a writer is a person who writes and a photographer is a person who takes photographs. A painter paints and a sculptor sculpts. We can’t control the outcome — how the work is received and whether or not it’s considered serious. We just make. And then we do it again. Mostly because we can’t help it. (And it’s fun!).

    • Lisa,
      Going through the process of verbalizing these thoughts has helped me break the hold they had on me – that my search for beauty on my terms is enough. That I don’t have to justify it. Or develop a profound and deep artist’s statement. I do it for me – and yes, because it’s fun!

  10. Do you not see that the photo you took and shared has a capital A? Jus’ sayin’. Little hidden message for you perhaps?-or metaphor?
    I’m glad you are an A/artist….I have completely enjoyed seeing your style and getting to know you, getting to understand where you shoot from through this class. I would totally say you’re an A/artist-perhaps in all upper or lower case letters.
    As I am learning in my Art Appreciation class and seeing so called “masterpieces” that are technically perfect I wonder if they were painted/created to be technically perfect or whether they came from the heart. I would be disappointed to think it is the former rather than the latter. I think your images come from your heart….part of what makes them a pleasure to see.
    Growing up, in my family, being an artist was fine for drawing pics, but a serious artist was looked upon as “artsy fartsy” perhaps a little flighty or lost in space. It has been difficult for me to find my creative soul, my inner artist and to claim it. Baby steps….just getting there recently.
    Love the way you think and write. Happy day Brenda.

    • Susan,
      It’s a capital “A” because that is what I came across during that morning’s photo walk – really! But I suppose I can accept it as a note from my subconscious.
      And I completely understand the “artsy-fartsy” thought process. My parents always supported my crafting but our family never explored fine art in any way. And even my own explorations into Art (with a capital A) reveal that I like only a very small percentage of the work in that world. It all comes back to finding things that move us, whether it falls into the Big A or Little A category. So I suppose the categories don’t really matter in the long run. It is as you say – heart is what matters.
      Thanks for being my supporter and cheerleader as we take those baby steps together.

  11. i agree this distinction definitely exists – and actually am wishing I knew more about the “A” art to inform my “a” art – I often feel that I am missing the layers, historical and otherwise, when I am looking at “fine art”. I’m not very satisfied by the rule of thirds anymore.

    • JJ – I too feel an intellectual lack of understanding in regards to “fine art” – I realize that greater knowledge would increase my appreciation. And yet, at the same time, the heart loves what the heart loves, whether we can explain it or not.
      So far, I haven’t tired of the “rules of thirds” but that may be because of that overlay on my viewscreen.

  12. Same reason I take and create photos. Well said.

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