Carolee Schneemann was among the artists who introduced photographic quandaries by staging ephemeral events and performances instead of creating enduring art objects.
Photography’s uneasy relationship with fine art was not resolved when the camera was accepted as an expressive tool that was as appropriate for art-making as a paint brush. Nor was it settled when photographs ceased being categorized as drawing aids or mechanical reproductions and earned the status of a painting or drawing. Carolee Schneemann was among the artists who introduced additional photographic quandaries by staging ephemeral events and performances instead of creating enduring art objects, raising the following questions:
- Was the artist’s intentions and integrity compromised by creating a durable photographic record of an ephemeral artwork?
- Who claims the artistic rights to a photograph of an art event or performance – the photographer who shot the image or the artist who created the event that was photographed?
- Does a photograph of an art event or art performance deserve the status of fine art or is it merely documentation?
Photographic images of Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy have earned iconic status in the history of 20th century art. They differ from another acclaimed photographic series by Schneemann, entitled Eye Body. The images in these photographs were staged and framed by Schneemann specifically for the camera. She describes Eye Body, “I am both image-maker and image.”23 But this statement cannot apply to Meat Joy because photographs of that artwork were framed independently by the photographers who created those images.
a. Describe the stylistic difference between three photographs of “Meat Joy” (e.g. camera angle, lighting, proximity to subjects, composition, etc.)
b. Explain your opinion about the following:
Are these images works of art or documentation of a work of art?
Are these images works by the photographers of Meat Joy or Schneemann, the creator of Meat Joy?
c. Apply these questions to a photograph of an event or performance by three of the following artists: Joseph Beuys, Andy Goldsworthy, Walter de Maria, Red Earth, Reverend Billy Talen, and Nicole Fournier who also produced ephemeral works of art that are known long after they have occurred via a photographic record.