Painting Aesthetics in Photography Art

      Since the date of the birth, photography has inextricably linked with painting. They learn from each other and keep parallel development. As a form of plastic art, the main aesthetics mission of painting is the realistic reproduction of the objective world ever since the 16th century, which is also the original mission of photography. Relying on science and technology, from the moment of being invented, photography has carried the mission of recording reality and idea timely and accurately by principle of optical imaging. In other words, before modernism, painting had always been performing the basic characteristics of photography, which was to accurately record reality. The birth of photography in 1839 had a devastating impact on traditional painting, with its purpose of reproduction. At the same time, the technology of photographic reproducing and the lack of creativity and manual work excluded it from the realm of art for a long time. In the beginning of the invention of photography, due to limitations of science and technology, it could not allow an object to display beyond its physical characteristics of its own to achieve a condition of ideal beauty as painting. Realistic image presentation makes the picture becomes dull. Photography and painting are different. Its uniqueness lies in its objectivity. There is only one real object functioning between the original object and the reproduced picture. It is the camera. The images outside the world generate automatically according to strict scientific principles for the first time, without manual participation and the creation of artists. The photographer’s personality is only revealed in the choice of subjects for shooting, when they determine the angles for shooting and the explanation of the phenomenon. No matter how obvious this personality is demonstrated, it can not be compared with the artist’s personality manifested in the painting. All art are based on people’s participation, but only in photography, we have the privilege of prohibiting people from involvement.[1] However, with visual images, photography is the same as the painting in the process of balancing light, color, composition, tone and other forms, which implies a connection to the aesthetic elements. So, the way for photography to art is inevitable. In fact, as early as 1884, when Taierbo’s writings of photographic aesthetics Natural Beauty came out, it has showed artist’s aesthetic pursuit of photographic art.

      Most early photographs imitated paintings, regardless of composition, form or the use of light. Photographic artist treated photography in the way of painting, and were largely dependent on visual experience. Photography’s black-box technology was to fix the image observed in the hole in the black box, which was exactly same with the principle of focus perspective in traditional painting. Until an artistic photographer Gland’s photographic works Two Roads of Life appeared in Britain Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, photography was finally considered to be art. Photography’s imitation on painting is particularly visible in picture photography. Picture photography emphasizes on making photographs have the effect of painting through special scene arrangement or special process or production methods. The treatment of such works on tone, line, balance and other form factors makes photography extend beyond the practical significance of recording. With the progress of science and technology, photography has gradually formed an independent and perfect way of visual experience, and has embarked on the development of self-discipline. It has become another art style paralleled with painting, sculpture and architecture. Although photography is free from the complete attachment to the painting, a joint relationship has been always maintained between them. For example, impressionistic photography, impression secession photography, purist photography, documentary photography, structuralism photography, surreal photography, abstract photography and many other photography genres are closely related to painting genres.

      Until the late twentieth century, the relationship of imitation and reliance had no longer existed between painting and photography, instead, interaction and inter-borrowing have become more often ever since. Man Ray has a classic explanation on the relationship between photography and painting: “I shoot things which I do not want to draw, and I draw things which I do not want to shoot.” Man Ray had two identities—photographer and artist. His works always have obvious aesthetic elements of paintings.

      It is worthy noting that, although the formation of photographic concept is built on the basis of painting aesthetics, photography in turn affects the development of modern painting. Painting extracts a number of image factors from the art of photography. Especially in modern and contemporary art, many artists use pictures as creative materials, or imitate artistic effects of photography. The contribution of Gerhard Richter on contemporary painting is based on his reference to photography. Richter has displayed the techniques of photography in oil painting, using pure painting language to imitate the mechanical traces of the picture.

      From the perspective of the history of art, the mediums of performance and language of each category of art are changing constantly. Mutual reference happnes among different arts. As Zhu Yujun said, modern art clearly has the tendency of absorbing, borrowing, integrating the features of other artistic categories, making it more inclusive. The existence and the development of art of photography borrow aesthetic elements from painting in different levels, with its purpose to gain greater self-expression and artistic beauty. With the rapid technological development, the relationship between photography and painting is undergoing profound changes.

      The geomancy turns by turn. Contrary to the past belief that photography relies on painting, many theorists now think that contemporary culture gradually transforms to the era of image. Image becomes an all-pervasive powerful weapon to change people’s way of watching and attitudes on culture. Roland Bart once said: “Photography represses other types of images with its hegemony. There is no print, no figurative painting, and there is only one type of figurative painting by the model of photography, complied by the principle of photography because of the latter’s seduction.” [2]Robert Story also mentioned in an interview with Richter: “They are doing very well, and now painting like this has no problem. But when that is finished, the painting will no longer be there.”[3] According to their points of view, as paintings borrow too much from photography, pure art faces the fate of disappearance. The proposal of the issue makes the photographer face two problems. On one hand, photographers have the responsibility to show the impact of the two’s relationship on photography. On the other hand, the confusion of artistic boundaries results in endless streams of new ideas. In a digital age when there is a vast resource for creation, how do we build our own expressions of images?

      Then, is it really true that, as some theorists has said, the connections and mutual penetration in the art will make the boundary of art become blurred, or make one art become another? Or is it that the art of each category only has to exclude factors borrowed from other art categories in order to manifest its artistic value, just as what Greenberg has envisaged? In my opinion, it is not the truth. Overall speaking, the blend of photography and painting blend brings about a new art which is different from their perspective manifestation. While , which detract from its character and aesthetic value of art. Inherent in the grasp of the world improvinge their own methods and means of expression, in the form and the world, the two have are completely maintained their ownhis distinctiveness.course in the nature of artistic expression, Aat the same time, , they also expanding their by its own connotations and denotations. The blend between photography and painting makes the other party produce a new manifestation of art different from its own, which doesn’t detract its character and aesthetic value of art.

      In some works of mine, for example, Neighbors and Unbounded, I tried to break the technical manifestations of photography ontology, let photographic image deviate from the paper of its carrier by special means, and take rice paper or canvas as the medium, thus demonstrating the aesthetic elements of painting. In addition to changing media in photography, there are many other artists integrating the aesthetic elements of painting into the photographic works through different means. In my opinion, aesthetic factors of painting in photographic art are very worth exploring and experimenting. And their combination will be a long-term artistic phenomenon.


      [1]巴赞《电影是什么?》崔君衍译,江苏教育出版社,2005年版,第6页

      [2] [法]罗兰·巴特:《明室——摄影札记》,许绮玲译,《台湾摄影》(季刊),1995

      [3] [英]罗伯特·斯托:《与格哈特·里希特的一次采访》,陈醉译,《中国艺术》2005 年第 1 期,第 77 页。


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