The End vs. the Means


I came across an article that I had written about 4 years ago relating to iconography which explored the subject of the End vs the Means in Iconography. I am going to spare you the article as it delves deeply into an argument in iconography over which material is proper and holiest for the creation of icons, but at the same time I think the subject is one that needs discussed in a wider context. If you would like to read the iconography essay on End vs. Means I should have it posted on my iconography site later this month.

Speaking from a purely philosophical point of view, let us discuss the terms “the means” and “the end” and how an understand of these two terms is key to an understanding of what truly is important to art. “The end” is the noun, it is a person, place or thing. It is the final outcome of the process of a verb. For the purpose of this essay “the end” of which we speak is the finished work of art. “The means” is the verb. It is the action which takes place that ultimately creates “the end.” It is the technique used to create the icon, the painting, the photograph, etc. “The means” is the action which produces “the end” and while it is important that “the means” be something that is done in a creative manner, ultimately it is not what is important. Ultimately “the end” is superior to “the means.”

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion in both the photography community as well as the iconography community about which is more important to the art, the end or the means. Since this question is in both communities and both are totally unrelated, I am going to assume it exists in all art communities. Among iconographers there is a group who are so wrapped up in the fact that they paint using egg tempera that they seemingly forget the reason that icons are painted in the first place. Among photographers it is not uncommon to see photographers get all caught up in what lighting source they use to light a photograph, or what program they use to edit the photo, what gear they use, etc., again to the point where they seem to lose focus on the finished photo itself. Granted, it is fine to have open and healthy discussions about improving your technique, but when you make statements such as “I only use natural light in my photos” or “egg tempera icons are the only true and acceptable icons” then you have lost sight of the real reason you are doing your art in the first place.

In the end, what is important is the creation of art. It matters little what technique you use, or what tool you use to create your art. What matters is that you created the work of art and did it well. As long as you did your best work and the piece shows artistic skill and creativity, then that is all that matters. Unless you are showing your art to another artist who works in the same genre as you, the chances are the person viewing your art will not ask you if your icon was painted in acrylic or egg tempera of if you lit your photo using off camera flash vs any of the other methods that are available for photographic lighting. The focus of the viewer will almost always be on the finished piece and not on the process or tools which were used to create the piece.

And yet, I see so much energy spent on line where people are debating the merits of various different techniques vs. other techniques. I would dare say their time would be much more well spent in just working at creating art. The end far outweighs the means.

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