How Far is Too Far?

There are hobbyists and professionals in the graphic arts who do quality work ... and let me define the word "quality." By "quality" I mean they care about the presentation of their photography or digital art. Looking at it, you cannot find anything technically wrong with it.

However ... and this is the point of this article ... their choice of subject matter cheapens graphic art across the board.

Now, I will not go into what that subject matter is, but in recent days, a photographer I was (past tense) following went on a rant because one of his or her pieces was pulled from a social network for being in poor taste. (Frankly, I agree it was in poor taste, but saying so would have only opened me up to a lot of criticism.) But in ranting about what had happened, this person said not to mess with "artistic license."

My brain always wants to define things, so hearing that term set me to thinking. What IS "artistic license"?

In a world with a lot of gray, it's sometimes hard to find the black and white. I was raised to believe there were rules. You could do (A) but never (B), and if you did (B) anyhow, you would be in big trouble. I've carried this philosophy with me my entire life, but have noticed more as I've grown older than many others have not. Suddenly (B) has become okay as long as it's under "artistic license." It's a sort of everybody's-doing-it mentality.

I'm here to submit that that idea is a lot of bunk. Sometimes what we make an excuse to do is actually wrong. It's been said that the more you tempt yourself with something, the easier it becomes, no matter how incorrect it may be. By example, drink a lot of scalding coffee and after a while, you only want it that way. That's a simple analogy, but apply it to a broader topic, photography, for instance, and you begin to understand my point.

Taking this thought from another angle, there are graphic "artists" (and I use that term loosely) who offer their services at inordinately low prices. Their philosophy is to make what used to be high-priced more accessible to the consumer. On one level, I understand this. (And I'm not talking about stock photographers or designers, or even low-budget home artists.) It's good to give people who cannot afford a good product a chance to have what, in the past, only a few could.

Instead, I'm talking about how "everything goes" ... maybe his or her product only looks awful to me because I have different taste. But doesn't this smudge the same black line I mentioned earlier? It's no longer that (B) is wrong, that that artist needs to study more and improve themselves, but that I don't understand (B).

Now, I'm not talking apples and bananas, or in my case, watermelon. I hate watermelon. Hate the smell of it. Hate the taste of it. You put it near me, and I go the other way. You put it in anything, and I'm not going to eat it. I don't want it in my house, and definitely not in my refrigerator. Where watermelon is concerned, I have an extreme dislike. This doesn't mean you can't like it. My dislike is my opinion. There's nothing wrong with eating watermelon, so long as I don't have to join you, we'll remain friends.

However, altering point (B) and trying to justify that what you've done to it falls under "artistic license" doesn't work. It's not a matter of opinion, but a matter of right and wrong. What you produced was actually shoddy, and you simply don't want to admit it.

We must make rules or we won't know when they've been broken. We must enforce them or why did we make the rules at all?

"But, Suzanne, where is point (B)?"

Actually, I could give you a definitive answer, but in the space of this article, I won't because the fact is, dozens of people said it was "unbelievable" anyone would find that photographer's shot anything other than "beautiful." But there's the thing - someone did. Me, for one, and I'm not the person that reported it. So that makes two. However, in this world of harsh public opinion, there was nothing I could do to espouse my belief in that other than stand up taller and reiterate what was taught me when I was five.

"Put your finger in the light socket and you'll get shocked."

I think I'd rather keep my hands to myself, follow the rules, and do my part to better the standard of the graphic arts. I hope you'll join me.

*Note: All these photographs were taken on my recent vacation to Gainesville and St. Augustine, Florida.

Other Articles on Steve's Digicams by the Same Author:

Suzanne Williams | Blog

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.