This question is based on following observations and quotes

Why something which is not good in human life (mystery) become such a vital element in art photography?


  1. How to reproduce Renaissance painting styles in photography?
  2. An intro to "conceptual" fine-art photography?


  1. "A major concern of most software customers, managers, and requirements engineers is to remove ambiguity in communication of requirements and specifications." - Ambiguity and what to do about it - Requirements engineering
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    Arts vs. Sciences is a false dichotomy. These are human endeavours with just as much in common as not. It's fun to look at the similarities and compare the differences, but it's not like the things we do are marked by unresolvable schisms. – user31502 Oct 16 '15 at 14:27
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    I'd like this question to remain open. You have a good quote backing up the idea that mystery is valued in art (although I don't see the other reference questions as quite doing the same). It'd be a lot stronger if you could have a counter-quote showing the idea that these things are bad in human life in general is well-established, rather than just stating it. – Please Read My Profile Oct 16 '15 at 20:31

I would dispute the statement that ambiguity and mystery are not a good thing in most parts of human life. Certainly engineering and science are about removing ambiguity and discovering facts, but I think ambiguity and mystery are a big part of the human condition and make life interesting.

As for mystery being an important element, it is one element that can add to an image and make it interesting, but I don't think it's vital, as there are many elements that can make a photograph interesting: patterns, contrast, mood etc.

Because still photography deals with a frozen instant in time, we capture scenes where often there is vital context hidden from the viewer, because they cannot see what has come before or after that instant that the image was taken. That makes the viewer curious and I think is one place where mystery draws the viewer into the photo, trying to make sense of it, answer questions about what is going on.

Another might be abstract or macro photography, where it's not even clear what exactly the subject is. Anything that makes the viewer curious will tend to make them linger over the image longer and be drawn into it more, much like a good movie draws you in to the point you almost forget you're watching a movie, you get so involved with the story.

I don't think it's surprising that mystery is one element that can be important in any art form, particularly photography. I just don't think the comparison to engineering is an appropriate one.

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  • Agreed. I question the whole premise that mystery in engineering is undesirable. – dpollitt Oct 16 '15 at 13:47
  • Anyone who thinks there is no mystery and ambiguity in science and engineering has never studied The Duality of Light. – Michael C Oct 16 '15 at 19:10

First off, different people like different things. There are and have been styles of photography that concern themselves with nearly orthographic presentations of real things presented as real objects not symbols or mysteries or ambiguities.

So, now about art. When you watch a SciFi movie do you want every 'scifi-ish' thing explained, or would you rather the filmmaker keep the plot moving forward? Or, say, a murder mystery -- would you rather have every single plot detail explained by the end of the movie, or would you rather have some things left ambiguous or mysterious, so you can decide for yourself? For me, I'd rather have things left out so I can think about them. I like novels by William Gibson and films like the recent Mad Max because they don't stop and explain everything. I think the biggest flaw of the Matrix movie was the battery explanation scene, chop that out and you have a stranger (and I think more interesting) movie.

Again, people are different. There are a lot of people who really want to know the exact circumference of the Death Star, or how blasters are supposed to work -- and that is fine.

No one can tell you how to approach art, it is a human and personal experience. Unlike engineering, there aren't any right or wrong answers (maybe there aren't any answers).

Back to photography -- Don't worry about art theory. Take the pictures that you need to take, express these images the way you need to express them. Like the photographs that you feel moved to like.

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In engineering, and in most part of human life, ambiguity and mystery is not a good thing.

Is it not one of the most important driving things in exploration, mystery?

What is beyond that sea? What is beyond our planet? Why do we build bigger telescopes? and bigger particle acelerators?

Can you really imagine searching for new things if everithing is "clear"?

Can you imagine a love story without some mistery and ambiguity?

Can you understand a kid without asking why, what, how... yes but HOW?

I can't.

Is it not art the same thing? A path of discovering?

It is not, your question, starting with a Why?

Why? I dont know... and I'm happy for it.

I will add something regarding photography. On visual comunication in general but in photography in particular.

This is storytelling. If an image is good, it tells a story. Good one, bad one, documentary or fantasy.

In art in general and in photography in particular if the story is not very clear, but sugested, opens a world of posibilities depending on people's imagination.

In my opinion that is the apealing factor.

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