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Tutorials :: 3 Steps for Voting on Artistic Photographs
3 Steps for Voting on Artistic Photographsby posthumous
How important is it that a photo be artistic? One person might save the highest scores for artistic shots, while someone else might ignore the artistic qualities of a photo altogether. All I can do in this tutorial is examine the notion of what "artistic" means and how you might be able to judge this quality. How it translates to a score is up to you.
More Than Just "Fine Art Photographs"
I often see the term "fine art photograph" bandied about. This seems to be an attempt to make art into a genre. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to define the "artistic" genre for you so that you can identify such photos when you come across them. Instead, I am going to give you a method for rating on an artistic basis that can be applied to any photograph.
Step 1: Empty Your Mind
This is a step you take before you even look at the photograph. To help you ignore distractions and focus properly on the image in front of you, practice emptying your mind of expectations and prejudices. Bring an empty mind to the photograph and then let the photograph fill it back up again.
Empty your mind of the challenge! See where the photo takes you first. Maybe it will take you to the challenge unbidden, or maybe when you add the challenge to the mix it will blend well with the impressions that you've already built up around the photograph.
Empty your mind of the title. Again, bring the title in later, see how it meshes with what you've already brought to the photo, see what new direction it takes you in.
Step 2: Remember Your First Reaction
You will always have an instantaneous reaction to a photograph, a "first reaction" or "gut reaction." Sometimes the reaction is complete indifference, or confusion. That's still a reaction. Some of you may have been ignoring or downplaying this reaction in order to objectively analyze the image (i.e. grade the "technicals"), but to look at an image artistically, your gut is your most important tool. Why? Because the purpose of art is to work on all levels of your being: emotional, sensual and spiritual as well as intellectual. This same "gut" may lead you past your first reaction into a richer, more complex reaction, but that first reaction can be a beacon if you start getting lost in different possibilities. This is important, because you won't have objective measures to guide you in this arena.
Step 3: Rate the Experience
Now you're ready to give a score. It might be your entire score or it might just be a part of your score. Either way, the key is to rate the experience you just had, not the photograph. This is the secret that eludes so many befuddled voters. Some of you clicked on this tutorial hoping for a list of objective criteria you could use for rating an artistic image, criteria like "rule of thirds," "sharp focus," and "details in the shadows and the highlights." Well, the reason you haven't found a set of criteria to apply to artistic images is because they don't exist. The artist will use whatever means necessary to create an emotional, visceral, spiritual, etc. experience for the viewer. Therefore, the only way to judge a piece of art is to judge your own experience while looking at it. How far did your mind travel? Did it go anywhere new? What emotions did you feel? There are many different levels on which you can be "stimulated." How much did this photo stimulate you?
Keep in mind that this sort of rating might be directly opposed to the kind of rating you're used to giving. For example, if you're judging an image that could be used for advertising, you might give it extra points for recreating a "look" perfectly. When looking at art, you want an experience that seems new, unfamiliar. Certain parts of it will probably be familiar, but they will be combined in a new way or go in an unexpected direction. Another example, with art you are not judging the skill of the artist. The artist may have worked very hard on a piece, or it may have been easy, the result of one moment of brilliant inspiration. That does not concern you. Only the result. A criticism that is often leveled at art is "my four year old could do it." So what? Is it so bad to look at something that could have been the expression of a child's joy? There is no right or wrong answer here. You are not a fool for liking an image that no one else likes. You are an individual. Art celebrates that quality.
So now you have it, a way to vote on artistic images. No rules, no criteria, just an easy-to-remember process: empty your mind, remember your first reaction and rate your experience. This can also help you with comments. Your comment can simply be a description of the experience. Not only is this helpful to the photographer, it will make your own viewing experiences richer, deeper and more diverse.
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