As I spend some hours in my new darkroom light night, my brain was kind of chewing the topic.
I'm no artist, far from it. But I've made I few prints I like, and more importantly - I value. They tend to be of my family, as this seems to be the topic I really care about. And frankly, I'm fine with that. Gone are the years of seeking the answer to existential questions, which fuel more open approach to art. So yeah, for me it's just relaxation and meditation. It's incredible really how mindful darkroom work is, specially compared to anything we do with computers.
So back to my prints. There's a print I've made last winter, of my daughter in a street. I spent hours on getting that print just right, as the available light was tricky, plus I want to make it what I envisioned. I have a log of numerous trials what worked and what didn't. Sure, I was very new to darkroom so I spent maybe even more time than many of you would.
But still, when I look at that print, I really look. It's not a snapshot. It's not just a good looking photo. It's something I've created. Spent considerable time, work, creativity in that one print. And it's unique. If you want to see it, you need to come to my place.
This kind of too long overture brings us to the topic: great masters of art, whoever you name... Michelangelo, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Ansel Adams... and many more... all of them spent a great deal of time and skill working on their creations to perfection. Is this kind of persistence a requirement for true art? Is art in many ways demonstration of personal growth through developing a certain skill?
To approach the question from the other side: if today's Van Gogh used a computer to create his paintings in a fraction of time he needed with paint and a brush... would that still be art? Apparently, Van Gogh was a fast painter and didn't spend "more than a few days" on some of his well known works. But see here, how quickly it can be done today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eXSaJS0Gts
Another example: if todays Michelangelo took a 3d scan of David (yes, such scanners exist) and have it 3D printer, would that still be art? OK, 3D printers are still a bit rough for a masterpiece like David, but how about a CNC stone cutter? Yes, such stuff exists: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3Ff0qwYMyY
How many people would call the robotic sculpture art? And how many would call the digital paint art? (personally, I'd expect none for the sculpture, but some for the painting; would be an interesting research actually).
My hypothesis is, that people inherently value something as Art, when it's hand made by another person.
Certainly, I "like" the photos of my daughter I snapped and "manipulated" with a few clicks, and they do bring the value of the memory they store and aesthetic they have. They do not, however, "contain me". They contain more genius programmers who created the algorithms than me.
That print. That one print, however - there's nothing but me in there. And that's what art is all about, isn't it?
Fine art is a marketing term.
It has no real definition.
Neither does art.