… but is it Art?

This is one of a series of occasional self-reflective posts; in this case, a stranger’s-eye view of this ‘art world’ that I have thrust myself into. I started on the degree course a year ago, in February 2016, having never studied an ‘arts’ subject at any level (even O-level) but with an educational background in science/engineering subjects and a day job in building construction problem-solving. I knew it would be a challenge and push me out of my comfort zone – that is one of the reasons I am doing it.

I have now completed EYV, read a lot, visited exhibitions and lurked (and occasionally contributed to) the OCA forums and other social media outlets, so I have more than my toe dipped in the water. However, I still have a problem with the question, “… but is it Art?” especially when viewing some of the more conceptual ‘works’. I was, therefore interested to come across the following passage in Salkeld (2014,152). The context is a discussion that anything can be a work of art but it does not follow that everything is a work of art.

What these examples have in common is that the institutions and discourses that constitute the art world have validated them.


The problem with this line of reasoning is that it might suggest that a self-serving and elitist clique has defined art in its own terms and is sharing an expensive joke at the expense of the general public. This would be an understandable, but nevertheless very cynical, view!

At present, I do take this ‘understandable’ view, and I do not consider it invalidated because a member of that same clique has described it as ‘cynical. I came to this degree course with a view of ‘art’ similar to the first part of the definition in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “Skill, esp human skill as opposed to nature; skilful execution as an object in itself; skill applied to imitation & design, as in painting etc.;  thing in which skill may be exercised”. Essentially, I have seen art as a supreme expression of a craft or crafts – which explains my impatience with ‘artworks’ that appear to lack or deride the underlying craft skills.

During EYV, as a result of the course notes, tutor feedback and social media interactions, I have come to understand that OCA are working to a different definition, probably related to the next part of the COED definition, ” (pl.) certain branches of learning serving as intellectual instruments for more advanced studies…”. I have started a process of adjustment but suspect that, while adding to my understanding of ‘art’, I will not let go of my view that a level of craft skill is involved.

This post is intended as a sort of benchmark, a record of where I am at the start of C&N. I intend to review it at the end of the course to see if I have made what the art world would consider to be progress.

Salkeld, R. (2014) Reading photographs: An introduction to the theory and meaning of images. London: Bloomsbury.


Introducing myself

The first posting on a new blog is always difficult. There is an element of writer’s block as I stare at the electronic equivalent of a blank sheet of paper. What do I want to achieve this time? Should this blog be totally separate from the last, or should I be looking for continuity across my whole degree journey? If so, can I assume that my readers are familiar with my past ‘Expressing Your Vision’ blog (it’s here, by the way) or would that be just too arrogant?

Probably best to start by introducing myself.


I am 61, with a day job as a chartered building surveyor (a kind of ‘building doctor’) and hobby interests including photography, sailing (tolerably well) and learning saxophone (badly; I should practice more). I play with a variety of digital and film cameras: digital if it important to get a result, film if I want to absorb myself in the process and ritual of setting up a photograph.

Photographically, I tend to play it safe; I am most likely to produce a landscape or a ‘detail’ shot, and that is one of my reasons for embarking on the degree pathway. I want to stretch myself, leave my comfort zone occasionally and see what the wider world of photography and art has to offer.

I am doing this degree for personal development reasons. My previous forays into higher education have been for qualification and career progression. Now that I approach retirement, I am doing this one for me – and going for assessment as a way of keeping score.