Thanks for your question, Dan...
To me, fine art is all about trying to say something specific with your artistic vision -- sometimes it's called artistic intent. Some folks may have a whole series exploring their vision / intent until they have come up with their final piece that represents it. For some, the series is the piece.
It's not really important if others understand all of your intent, though. An example; in this one:
http://www.highton-ridley.co.uk/blog/2010/01/during-melt-on-dartmoor.html my intent was to represent the harshness of Dartmoor and the fact that, in minutes, the weather can change from clear to can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face.
There's all sorts in the image that speaks of both. The local and global contrast; no snow apart from in the lee of the walls; soft sky; the granite wall - you don't get much harsher than granite. Angle-iron: harsh; clear fields, sharp, pointy tor. Cultivated fields, impossible-to-cultivate tor. The composition - the finger of wall pointing straight at the tor; no subtlety there.
Yes, context helps but I think the image stands alone without knowing Dartmoor.Dan went on to say he couldn't see what Tracy Emin's bed was all about and this was my reply:
Re: Tracy Emin's bed - I think it's self-serving (i.e. pretty much a "self-fulfilling prophecy"). I dont think it's so much about the visual impact, it's all about what the various scattered items represent in terms of her life experience associated with them. By self-serving I mean that if it wasn't by her, people wouldn't look beyond the rather crappy visual impact to what lies beyond.
That piece of "fine art" lies almostly entirely in the associations it triggers in the viewer and not in the "prettiness" of the image. Not really aimed at the average punter but at the cognoscenti who "know" where to look for the artistic intent; i.e. they know the context.
A stark example of what I mean. Imagine a really, really, famous artist with instantly recognisabe, say, paintings. They produce an empty canvas. The congoscenti might say "Oh, they were going through an "xyz" time in their relationship with their public and lover. The emptiness of the canvas represents... blah, blah, blah."
Here, context is everything and, if you don't know the context, it's just a blank canvas. For me, this isn't fine art; for me, there has to be enough of merit that it can stand on its own without context. Knowing the context adds more, but it must be able to stand alone.
All my opinion and not necessarily having any bearing on other's reality.
I hope my views help you develop your own, whether you agree with mine or not ;)
Wikipedia says of Fine Art Photography:
Fine art photography refers to photographs that are created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist. Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism and commercial photography. Photojournalism provides visual support for stories, mainly in the print media. Fine art photography is created primarily as an expression of the artist’s vision, but has also been important in advancing certain causes. The work of Ansel Adams in Yosemite and Yellowstone provides an example. Adams is one of the most widely recognized fine art photographers of the 20th century, and was an avid promoter of conservation. While his primary focus was on photography as art, his work raised public awareness of the beauty of the Sierra Nevada and helped to build political support for their protection.I'm really interested to hear what other people think of fine art and context. Over to you :)
comments / feedback always welcome :)