Art or artwork…what is it that defines it?

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I was reflecting on the various types of art, artwork and fine art, I’ve been exposed to over the years. It has been stated numerous times, that “art can take many forms”.  We’re all familiar with the art we see as paintings, sculpture, tapestry, and pottery, just too mention a few.  However, as technology has changed over time the tools artists have used have changed as well, now incorporating computers and video technology. The more I reflected, the more I continued thinking – how is concept of ‘art’ is actually defined?  I know how my heart and my feelings define ‘art’ when I experience it, but wanted to examine how a dictionary might define it. Merriam-Webster defines ‘art’ as; “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”.

Armed with that definition of art, I recalled the many photography competitions and seminars I’ve taken part of or witnessed over the years. I’ve experienced various judges, competitors, and speakers commenting that they frowned upon capturing photos of someone else’s “art or artwork”. Photographing someone else’s “art or artwork” could consist of photographing paintings, sculptures, and statues, etc., created by other artists. They further stated, “you are not creating your own art, you are stealing someone else’s ideas…”.  This thought process has always puzzled me. Obviously, they are entitled to their own opinions and feelings. In my opinion, some of the wonderful characteristics and benefits of photography are that it allows all of us to have a freedom of expression. It allows us to use our imaginations, and create by using our emotions and inner feelings. It offers us a freedom to capture and record moments – moments in time – moments of the present, and more importantly the past. Recording these memories for future generations to review, enjoy, and cherish,  is such an important piece of what photography is all about, and what it has to offer our world.

Last weekend a group of us were fortunate to visit a location in Roxbury, Ma., that was meticulously and generously covered with graffiti. [Graffiti ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Egypt]. This property was secured by a tall chain link fence and prohibited to the general public. Fortunately we were able to speak to the property manager, and he did offer us admission to photograph and record these beautiful renderings. This property was once the home of an MBTA bus maintenance facility. (There is even an “Orange-Line” train depicted on one of the murals). Unfortunately, within the next several weeks this property and its buildings will be undergoing demolition. Regrettably – for the sake of progress – they plan to tear down the existing buildings, and the area will undergo an extensive retail and housing redevelopment project.

The graffiti we found was incredible! It truly was amazing to see the detail and eye-popping color in these drawings and paintings. These artists were able to create these sketches, drawings, and images with hundreds of cans of various colored spray paint. This was ART!  These paintings supported and upheld that true definition of ‘art’. These artisans used their creative skill and imagination, visual form in the paintings and sculptures, adding wondrous colors, and producing works to be appreciated. I saw all the qualities of ‘art’ being there. These artists-muralists utilized many different styles and incorporated them into this graffiti. These buildings contained abstracts and murals that told stories; photos, and graphic tell-tale representations of Boston and Roxbury’s personality. Many of these paintings offered symbolism and spoke out to numerous social issues.

For example, on one wall was a beautiful mural of Rosa Parks, depicted in black and white. Rosa Parks, set her mark on history, as she became known to all of us today, as the “mother of the civil rights movement”. This was due to her arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat (to a white man) back in the 1950’s. We found a depiction of “Mr. Miyagi”, taken from “The Karate Kid”, attempting to capture a fly with his pair of chopsticks…”man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything”.  Another depicted a reference to the “Floorlords”.  A high energy hip-hop dance group from Boston, celebrating 32 seasons of performing. Even “The Incredible Hulk” makes a ‘break-out’ appearance. All of the gray building walls on the property were covered with many of these dioramas. Even the roof vents, roof tops, and stair cases were covered with these drawings. It was unsafe for us to get to these areas, but we were still able to witness and enjoy many of these paintings from our vantage point.

Even though these drawings were not contained in a museum or gallery like The Louvre in France, these artists did create these works of art using their own medium, displaying them in their own way and in their own form of gallery, to tell their story for others to enjoy. I’m so happy that I was able to capture many of these renderings. Once the buildings are torn down these artworks will be gone forever.




  1. I enjoyed the photographs and the writing Sal.Art is one of those slippery, elusive concepts. Some don’t even want to own their work as art. Art need not be limited to the walls of museums, nor should it be limited to exotic places, things. Photography is a democratic medium, anything can be photographed to express ideas and creativity. Your work is not the graffiti, it is photographs. Nicely done as I told you earlier in a private mail. Your approach to the subjects is careful, considered, respectful and your structure is carefully planned and executed. I like that.


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