Oct. 9, Photography is not Art

I find the writings of Marius De Zayas often fatally flawed, yet I think one has to admit, that at times they can be interesting, at other times obtuse and just plain wrong headed and damaging. I’ll let you decide where on that spectrum this one falls:

“Photography is not Art. It is not even an art. Art is the expression of the conception of an idea. Photography is the plastic verification of a fact. The difference between Art and Photography is the essential difference which exists between the Idea and Nature. Nature inspires in us the idea, Art, through the imagination, represents that idea in order to produce emotions. The Human Intellect has completed the circle of Art. Those whose obstinacy makes them go in search of the new in Art, only follow the line of the circumference, following the footsteps of those who had traced the closed curve. But photography escapes through the tangent of the circle, showing a new way to progress in the comprehension of form.”

– Marius De Zayas

14 responses to “Oct. 9, Photography is not Art”

  1. I’ll bite.

    By this argument, would art not then only exist as an idea, and not as any tangible expression of that idea to provoke emotions since any expression thereof requires a medium to represent it, and, all mediums being created from nature are thus nature itself and not art, the latter of which is an idea inspired by nature? Therefore, in accordance, wouldn’t art actually not exist at all outside the mind of a single individual, with no possibility of becoming physical for others to observe?

    I’m joking around, of course, to illustrate how pointless I, personally, find these kinds of bloated, philosophical ramblings (about any topic, not just art). In my opinion, they can’t go anywhere, and can’t be resolved; thus, they are of no value. But what is “value”? (See what I mean?)

    That said, this sort of stuff can be amusing to read, and I don’t hold anything against those who do (I’ve read plenty of it myself and spent countless hours discussing it with others back in the day), but I will never take any of it seriously, on any level. It’s a nice time waster, nothing more.

    My opinion is that photography can be art just as readily as painting or any other media being applied to a medium can be. Paint to canvas, pastel to paper, knife to wood, or light to film — they’re just the artist’s chosen tools. Likewise, any of these tools, or the countless others out there, can be used to create an image strictly representative of what was seen by the observer and thus, arguably, that image will not be art because it wasn’t intended to be art, but rather a “plastic verification of a fact,” in De Zayas’ words.

    Photography is simply the easiest and most immediate (and most accurate) of all the tools that exist to create an image which documents a fact. But, as I’m sure you agree, that certainly doesn’t exclude it from also being able to produce art.


    1. I think you bring up an important point when you refer to De Zayas’ philosophical ramblings in that, to a point, they are just that. I believe that they emulate the trappings of philosophy, but are essentially political diatribes couched in the terms of philosophy, in that there is no rigor in the vetting of their underlying assumptions.
      Having said that, I believe De Zayas is more lampooning Art than Photography in this excerpt.


  2. Guillermo Vayá Pérez Avatar
    Guillermo Vayá Pérez

    Photography just exemplifies how technique by itself is not enough to produce a work of art, with a camera you can get a more realistic picture of a person, but is realism what we are looking for in a portrait?


  3. This seems odd for the quote to appear with no « context ». Marius De Zayas worked with Alfred Stieglitz. Art Institute of Chicago website notes:
    « A trailblazing photographer, Alfred Stieglitz vigorously championed photography as a fine art and established its value as modern art. »
    Another Marius de Zayas quote:
    « The more we consider photography, the more convinced we are that it has come to draw away the veil of mystery with which Art enveloped the represented Form. »

    Thèse two quotes appear in published article by Zayas in “Camera Work“ ( No. 41 January 1913), Alfred Stieglitz used the magazine to champion modern art.


    1. I agree that the quote would be easier to parse given a broader context. I guess I was a bit curious as to whether readers would discern De Zayas’ intent despite the bombastic opening of the quote.


      1. I certainly need context to understand what is being communicated.


      2. Reader Marco Andrés pointed out that De Zayas was indeed a great promoter of modern photography. I believe in this passage De Zayas is pointing out that Art has become stagnant vestigial and that photography is the way forward. I believe De Zayas’ essay “Photography and Artistic-Photography” is available online. It can also be found in the book “Classic Essays on Photography” by Alan Trachtenberg.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you for the information.


  4. 🥱 to Marius De Zayas.


    1. Khürt I think he was actually railing against the then current state of Art rather than Photography.


  5. well. interesting idea but it leaves out the idea that the weekend of a photo can be manipulated and therefore can demonstrate the completion of an idea. often photos do NOT demonstrate fact. additionally, when there is a negative or a positive or a print – some tangible analog version of the photograph, those elements now become part of the image or the idea. imagine one of those shots where people are walking in the distance and there is in the frame a person up close which now appears to be a giant among the smaller people. to produce this we need lighting and effective lens apertures, angles, etc. no longer a representation of fact it has become a manipulation of elements to express an idea in a way that the viewer is tricked, so to speak. it is an illusion, a concept, an idea. it is art

    Liked by 2 people

  6. i think I meant “elements if a photo” not “weekend” ? strange


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