Aaron Scharf Quotes

Aaron Scharf (1922 – 1993) was an American-born British art historian who contributed in particular to the history of photography in which he had developed an interest while studying at the Courtauld Institute. His investigation uncovered links between painting (and other artforms) and photography, and evidence for artists using photography for reference and other purposes, as well as the way photographers with aspirations as artists referred to painting in their work. He thus pioneered a new field of art history when Pop Art and other movements in the 1960s were reincorporating the medium of photography (which developed separately since the 1930s, and which hitherto art historians in general treated separately from painting) and reference to popular photographic images, into mainstream artistic practice. Scharf popularised his study and discoveries with publication of his profusely illustrated hardback Penguin volume 'Art and Photography' (1968) and through his work at the Open University in producing innovative thematic educational videos on the history of photography and its relation to society

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Aaron Scharf


How aware were photographers in the past of other visual arts? "No photographer of any distinction at all could approach his work without some awareness of what was going on in other visual media, and for that matter neither the painter nor the draughtsman could ignore photography."

Aaron Scharf


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Only recently serious research into the relationship between photography and art has taken place. Why has it been so long in coming ? In some respects historical research is analogous with that of science. The bringing to light of factual material and the development of ideas is to a large extent cumulative. But when artists themselves were, from about 1910, beginning to tear down the bastions protecting Art in its ivory tower, questioning the idea of Art with a capital 'A', photography was inevitably to assume a new stature both in the eyes of artists and the public, too.

Aaron Scharf


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Has it led you to the conclusion that photography is an art ? Or it is simply a means of recording ? "I'm glad you asked that. I've been wanting to say this for years. Is cooking an art ? Is talking an art ? Is even painting an art ? It is artfulness that makes art, not the medium itself. Of course photography is an art - when it is in the hands of artists."

Aaron Scharf


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The traditional difficulty of balancing the mechanical with the imaginative schools of photography still operates. In schools of photography meaningful art education is often lacking and on the strength of their technical ability alone students, deprived of a richer artistic training, are sent forth inculcated with the belief that they are creative photographers and artists. It is yet a fact that today, as in the past, the most inspiring and provocative works in photography come as much (and probably more) from those who are in the first place artists.

Aaron Scharf


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