When it comes to “Great” or “Classic” photographers, you might be able to name several, and believe you’re being fair and objective – but did you ever consider the true origins of your most heart-felt convictions?
To what extent did you reason-out such beliefs – or do you mainly accept them on faith?
I asked myself that question when I came across the quote below by Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), an English journalist and novelist who’s still remembered today and whose photo is below. The quote summarizes how a literary work becomes a “Classic,” but his argument – thoughtful & eloquent, if a touch naive – might apply to other arts too, such as photography.
I’ve excerpted it from his handbook Literary Taste: How to Form it (1909), so if it sounds old-fashioned or hopelessly dated – and it might not sound that way to everybody – it’s because the work is more than 100 years old. And besides, few would rank Bennett among top-tier thinkers of culture, certainly not up there w/ his more talented contemporaries, such as Matthew Arnold or George Bernard Shaw, but the man sure is quotable for our purposes.
So try giving this a quick read w/ an open mind, as it might apply to your most cherished convictions about the art of LF photography:
...The passionate few only have their way by reason of the fact that they are genuinely interested in literature, that literature matters to them. They conquer by their obstinacy alone, by their eternal repetition of the same statements. Do you suppose they could prove to the man in the street that Shakespeare was a great artist? The said man would not even understand the terms they employed. But when he is told ten thousand times, and generation after generation, that Shakespeare was a great artist, the said man believes – not by reason, but by faith. And he too repeats that Shakespeare was a great artist, and he buys the complete works of Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the marvelous stage-effects which accompany King Lear or Hamlet, and comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was a great artist. All because the passionate few could not keep their admiration of Shakespeare to themselves. This is not cynicism; but truth. And it is important that those who wish to form their literary taste should grasp it...
• When we’re discussing the best LF photography through the years – Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, etc. – are you one of the “passionate few,” or a “man of the street”?
• Do you go by reason, or by faith?
• Or perhaps by some other means that Bennett would be slow to recognize, but would be profitable for the rest of us to know?