Is Photography Art? Is AI Generation Art?

In order to answer whether photography and/or AI generation is art we need to first try to define ‘What is art?’. After that, we can also start thinking what makes good and bad art.

Thankfully, someone has already attempted to answer these difficult and contentious questions. Dr. James Fox is an art historian, writer and BAFTA-winning broadcaster. He’s Director of Studies in History of Art at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Director of Education at the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park in Canada, and President of the Friends of the Stanley Spencer Gallery.

The Garden has a series of four (paid for) talks by James. He covers how art was traditionally thought of as 1) having to be a thing (painting, sculpture etc) representing something in nature, 2) made by the hand by a talented person and 3) having aesthetic properties. All these tenets broke down over time leading to the Functionalist (has a purpose + aesthetics) and Institutionalist (anything can be art) approaches to art that themselves are also flawed in some circumstances.

James concurs with the American philosopher Nelson Goodman that art is more about ‘When is art?’ rather than ‘What is art?’. The act of doing something creates art. Something that wasn’t art can even become art when there’s an artist and there are critics/curators who consider the outcome as art.

On the question of whether Photography is art, James thinks it depends on the context. Use of photography for recording something such as a holiday isn’t art. However, if an artist tries to create a photograph that’s of aesthetic value then it’s art.

On the question of whether AI can produce art, James asks us to consider who created the art? The algorithm or the person who created the algorithm? He believes we should think of AI as the tool or medium. Art is (partly) the mastery of this tool.

James has a refreshing take on what makes good art. It’s not about reputation that can often be grossly over-inflated. It’s not about price which is actually just an indicator of what someone is willing to pay. It’s not about convoluted, pretentious jargon spouted by critics and curators that’s meaningless and can be a turn-off for most people. Instead it’s about an artist’s mastery of their medium/tools, originality and expressive power.