Does photography make artists lazy?

Last night I spent some time sketching after a photograph I found on Flickr. With some regularity, I surf said photo repository for new images of storms. This one was taken by Flickrite nicholas_t in Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania last year.

I sketch before I get into the actual sculpture to give myself a better understanding of the subject. Sketching serves as a second level of observation, as well as time to brainstorm new ways to use clay or wood in my sculptures.

It seems, in some respects, that everyone wants to be a photographer these days. By everyone, I mean an awful lot of people who might not necessarily possess a natural giftedness in the visual arts. There seem to be pros and cons to this movement, if I can call it that, but those are for another post. Regardless, the implications on the tactile arts of a camera and process that so realistically reproduce a given subject remain significant.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy photography. However, I often think we don’t understand its limitations in accurately portraying the objects, situations and atmosphere within its frame. As amazing as the medium is, it’s easy to overestimate a photo’s ability to convey a space and time.

Does the often insane pace of life around us and our resulting impatience — and therein lack of intentional observation — keep us from really seeing a photograph? Are we so used to photography as part of our environment that we only glance at the products of this amazing visual technology, not giving it proper attention?

Has photography made artists lazy? If not, does it have the potential to strip artists of the desire to create tactile works? I asked myself this as I sketched last night. The question was born of, in part, this next question: Why would I bother sculpting storms in clay on such a small scale, not being able to render a lot of their detail, when we can just look at photographs? Sculptures take up shelf or table space people don’t have. Photographs can easily be hung on walls, which are usually more plentiful. Since I’m so infatuated with storms like the one above, why don’t I just become a storm chaser (which I would love to do) and photograph the things?

First off, I’m driven to work with my hands, hence the focus on this blog on the tactile arts. Secondly, even if my sketches and sculptures don’t/won’t rival the immaculate vision and presence of a prairie storm, they represent a personal level of investigation that goes beyond casual, or even some more serious observation. Thirdly, I’d like to believe there is some validity in my own interpretation. The third point is a bit dangerous; this kind of thinking can place too much emphasis on an artist’s personal interests. You can’t — and shouldn’t want to — completely separate the artist from the sculpture; however, art is bigger than any individual.

“Make it your goal to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands . . . so that you may win the respect of outsiders, and have need of nothing.”

I Thessalonians 4

Kudos to nicholas_t for using a Creative Commons License.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

4 Responses to Does photography make artists lazy?

  1. Pingback: Improvisational realism « The Aesthetic Elevator

  2. titlesareunimportant says:

    “Has the photograph made artists lazy?”

    Yes, probably because of how easy it is to just point your camera at something and click a button. Bam, you never need to sketch it, never need to really think about the lines, luminosity, colors, texture etc. of what you’re photographing.

    It’s a trade-off, on one hand there’s now an artform that almost anyone can get into relatively easily, which I think only enhances culture, but it also produces a tremendous amount of cruft. Unfortunately, the fact that everyone and their mother can take a picture, pieces like yours (which I think are highly valid) seem like a trade-off in time. People start to ask questions like, why bother really creating something when you can take a million pictures of a similar thing with your cameraphone? It’s a shame really.

    All that to say, I know that photography for me is way easier to get into than sketching, and that’s primarily laziness. It’s just so instantly satisfying to take a picture and immediately be able to show it to your friends via facebook.

  3. Tim J. says:

    Photography is a double edged sword. It’s very helpful, and very apt to help an artist cut corners they ought not cut. It’s easy to do photography but hard to do really good photography.

    I wonder sometimes, and seldom have heard it discussed, whether the advent of photography may not have thrown artists into a panic and an identity crisis. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, if you wanted a visual record of anything, you needed an artist. Then photography came along and suddenly that aspect of the artist’s work became much more irrelevant. I wonder if this helped push visual artists toward impressionism and pure abstraction… the emphasis on emotional, formal and metaphysical aspects of art – “art for art’s sake”.

  4. Tim J. says:

    Oh, and I would add that photography can make viewers lazy, too.

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