Art really is timeless—and that is true across all mediums, be it photography, sculpture or something like literature or movies. To see what I mean about the timeless nature of art, look no further than books. Here, you’ll find works that could be a century old, two centuries, or perhaps even older than that. And yet, we still read them today and get value from them.
That’s because these works are timeless. But what does that mean? In the most basic sense, it means that there is something in these books that, despite the passage of time, still resonates with a modern audience. Stories of love or stories of war, tales that feature strife and conflict—these are all things we experience today. Sure, we have more technology, and our environment has changed quite drastically. But there are certain themes that we will always relate to. These are universal parts of the human condition that will always hold true no matter the period of time.
That’s one way in which art can be timeless—by featuring themes that are eternally valid. But another way that art is timeless? Let’s use literature as an example again because it’s one of the easiest ways to illustrate the idea. Many of us go back to our favorite books over and over, rereading them every few years. And there’s a good reason for that. It’s not only because these works are repeatedly enjoyable, but also because each time we revisit them, there’s something new to be gained. It could be details that you missed the first time around, or meanings that you’d not seen before.
The interesting thing about art is that these laws of timelessness are just as applicable to literature as they are to any other art form, including photography. To my mind, timelessness is the foundational aspect that makes a photograph something we would consider art-worthy.
I’ve talked before about spending time with images rather than flipping through them rapidly as our online habits and our instant gratification culture tempts us to do. This is the reason why we should spend time with the photographs that we enjoy. Because when you revisit them, there should be something new to be gained. Sometimes, when you look again, you should be able to feel things you’d not quite felt before, or see new meanings that weren’t evident until you happened to think about the image in a different way from usual.
This is what makes art enriching. It’s not meant to be a quick experience in which we see a photograph, then smile and nod before moving on. Timeless art has depth, complexity, and elements that resonate with the audience no matter where or when they are from. But it takes time to immerse in this depth and complexity. New thoughts and ideas are notorious for being slow to form. Take all the time you need with a piece of art in order to truly see it as it was meant to be.