Art History And The Revolution in Photographic Art

Art can be defined as human creativity, skill, or craft, an assemblage of things having form and beauty within any discipline of creative work. Art is a journey in which artists attempt to articulate or convey anything about the subject, or to impact anything within the audience. This brings us to the question of what makes “good” art. Perhaps good art conveys the feelings of the artist or makes an influence to the person observing it to some degree. The basic forms of measuring the artistic value is to converse with others who have regard it as good.

Nevertheless, there is no definitive answers of what is good or bad art, it is a question of personal taste. Next we come to the question of whether photography can be art and what are its influences on art. Photography gave new rise to the relationship between reality and its representation; its profound effects changed our visual culture within society. It granted access to to art for the general public, changing perceptions and knowledge of art as well as the ability to appreciate of its beauty.

The invention of photography can be traces back to 1824 when the first process was discovered by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce The heligraphy, is what it was called, images were obtained with bitumen of judea and spread on a silver plate. The process took seven days as it hardened in proportion to its exposure to light. After Niepce’s death his apprentice Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre continued with his work and made some improvements, in 1838 introduced the daguerreotype worldwide.

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Daguerre discovered that a latent image forms on a plate of iodized silver and that it can be “developed” and made visible by exposure to mercury vapor, which settles on the exposed parts of the image. Fixed with a solution of common salts the image becomes permanent. With this discovery Daguerre managed to reduce the exposure time from the heligraphy from 8 hours to 30 minutes. The Daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process, and for nearly twenty years it was the one most commonly used.

Since the invention of photography in the early 19th century it has had a complicated relationship with painting, or rather the artists behind the painting. It was an echo making event that presents both benefits and challenges to artists at the time. This was around the time in art history where artists were interested in depicting scenes that showed everyday life, individuals, landscapes, and historical scenes as they really were. Photography changed all that because it is able to capture a scene exactly as it is in that instant. However, this was also a time where the art world was at somewhat of an impasse; The more formal academic style of art based on Classicism was gradually retreating and Romanticism had lost its initial force. It was a time where new trends in art were beginning to emerge and the challenge of conventional art became the commentary. Photography enabled artists to explore new forms of art, document their work, as well employ it within their work. Offering new ways of viewing the world in images that could not be conveyed in a traditional studio.

A wide range of emotions came with the rise of this technology. Some artists welcomed, it liberated them from the ties to realism, to factuality. It was also a tool for teaching and learning about art because now the public had access to images that they didn’t have before. However, many others artists felt disdain for the commonly available mechanical device. They were in fear of their livelihood, this attitude is partially what contributed to the negative stigma around photography. Many of these artist have spent years studying the arts and perfecting their skills, the most dramatic effect with photography was on portraiture artists. With a cheaper, more readily available form to take a family photos artists were no longer being commissioned to make portraits. Also with the constant tension between painting and photography that led to artist creating more ‘painterly’ photo which also hurt revenue. This mixture of feelings meant that many painters often would reluctant to admit to taking up photography in stead of, or in addition to their painting careers to keep their livelihood.

We have all heard the quote “painting is dead” but who said it and why? This has been a topic of controversy over the course of art history and can be pinpointed to this revolution in photographic art. It has been said that when Paul Delaroche, a french historical painter and art critic, first saw the daguerreotype process demonstration that he declared, “from today, painting is dead.”(Thomas 1972, p.60) This was a bold statement that may never detach itself from paining. The feelings around this art from were mixed because it did indeed provide artist with benefits in aiding in their artistic approach but in some ways it devalued the painstaking labor that went into painting on canvas. Photography was earning the reputation of cheapening art, in the sense that paintings were derives from imagination, feeling, and judgment but photos were merely a reproduction. The debate on photography become hostile, claiming it had no artistic potential. Charles Baudelaire was one of these critics; a french poet who also produced notable work as an essayist wrote a response to the influence of this new media culture in Salon de 1859.

“As the photographic industry became the refuge of all failed painters with too little talent, or too lazy to complete their studies, this universal craze not only assumed the air of blind imbecile infatuation, but took on the aspect of revenge…the badly applied advances of photography, like all purely material progress for that matter, have contributed to the impoverishment of French artistic genius.” -Charle Baudelaire (Cargo, 1968) Charles Baudelaire’ skepticism was not solely directed towards photography but also the industrial age in general. In the eyes of Baudelaire, 19th century France witnessed the end of the social and cultural system that had given “real art” room to prosper.

Today the world is flooded with photographs and images reaching us through different mediums. Photography has surpassed and has very important in our society today it would be very interesting to ask Baudelaire’s opinion about photography as art today. After a couple of centuries of photography history full of experimenting, breaking rules and exploring the ways of perception of the world. The idea that photography brought the death of painting, as Paul Delaroche stated, seems obsolete. If that was the truth then why didn’t Delaroche give up painting and take up photography instead and why are painting still being made in the 21st century.

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Art History And The Revolution in Photographic Art. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved from

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