As the use and importance of social media increases, “like” has become the operative word for expressing one’s acceptance of or agreement with an idea, an image, a product or whatever someone has shared digitally. “Like,” as far as it goes (and it doesn’t go very far), is just fine as a response in the real-world pace of social media. It’s totally unresponsive and inappropriate, however, when it comes to viewing, analyzing and gaining a deep understanding of an artist’s expression on canvas or the sensor in a digital camera. Works of art deserve more than simply being liked; they must be appreciated; and this requires substantially more effort on the part of the viewer than a quick look and a quick click on the Like icon.
If, as a digital photographer, your goal is to create art, then you must also know how to view it, and learn to appreciate what an artist is trying to achieve. You would certainly expect the same respect and attention for your creative efforts from those that view them.
“Like” is a superficial expression of being attracted to a work of art, in this case. It’s also the reason that the word “love” describes a much stronger and deeper emotion in personal relationships than telling someone you “like” him or her. Like lacks commitment. “It (or he or she) looks good, but I’m not sure yet.” Moving from like to love in a personal relationship should take some time and careful consideration before making such an important commitment. In the world of photography and other art forms, however, it’s essentially impossible to connect with a work of art, to understand it and the artist’s mission without a total commitment.
Those that rely on “like” as a standard measure of art usually find it difficult to explain why they “like” a photograph, painting, sculpture, etc. The reason again is because their interaction with the work of art is so minimal. Often, they are only reacting to the obvious features: the colors, the scene or the expression on a subject’s face. These are definitely important elements to connect one with the photograph, but they are only surface observations. Where one actually connects with art is below the surface.
Artists want their work to be more than liked. They are seeking understanding from viewers of the deep emotion or outside effect that inspired them to create this painting, photograph, etc. To feel completed, artists need a strong bond to be forged between themselves and viewers. They want the viewer to “experience” (and then appreciate) the pain, the joy and/or the introspection that led to their expression of it in an art form.
To share the mindset of the artist, to understand his or her creation at that deeper level requires viewers, and even other artists (including photographers), to learn how to “appreciate” a work of art. Appreciation is non-judgmental, whereas “like” is most of the time. A “like” viewer likes this set of colors, but not that set. This is a perfect example of missing the point. The colors were the exclusive choice of the artist; the viewer is not consulted. Instead of dismissing the artist’s color palette because you don’t “like” it, you try to understand why the artist chose the colors he or she did. As your understanding increases, you begin to accept that the artist picked the right colors for the photo/painting he or she had in mind.
A viewer can’t experience or express any appreciation for a photograph until he or she has spent time observing the work from various angles, distances and under different light sources, and learning about its background or source of inspiration. When you look at your photos or those of other photographers, and even other works of art, try to observe and learn as much as possible about the following components.
Look at the composition of the photo’s most obvious elements. What is their relationship to each other? An asymmetrical arrangement may be more compelling than a symmetrical one. Are the shapes of the elements variations on a single shape or is each element a unique shape?
Analyze the color palette in relation to the composition and the story being told or the message being sent. Do the colors add power to the arrangement of the elements and/or emphasize objects, subjects or areas of the composition? Do the colors help you understand the character/personality of subjects or the atmosphere of the place?
Appreciation of a work of art also occurs when you’re able to “read” the primary subject’s story within the composition. Was the artist able to explain why and how the subject is the subject of the work? Does his or her facial expression and/or body language reveal what they were thinking at the moment of artistic capture?
Allow your eyes to wander through the space of a photo or painting. Does it tell a story about the location and/or why the artist chose it? What is the balance of space between primary and secondary elements? How has the artist used negative space to express his or her thoughts and feelings and enhance the story being told?
Look for a message or moral in the photograph. In a sense, this is the conclusion of the story. Is the artist issuing a warning? Is he or she trying to lift your spirits? Is there a social/political agenda evident in the art?
It’s nearly impossible to appreciate works of art without taking the time to learn about the artist: his or her background, sources of inspiration, etc. Is this photo part of a series? How was the photograph shot technically, with what equipment?
“Like” is easy and quick and an adequate response to all the content that pops onto your Facebook page, Twitter, Google+, whatever. “Appreciation,” however, requires much more time and effort than the fast-paced social media world allows; but it’s the only mindset for those who aspire to be artists and those who want a deeper understanding of their work.
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Photo by Photography Member Tj Saroya