There are many image conventions -- the rule of thirds; having foreground, middle-ground, background in a picture; directing perspective lines towards subjects of interest; having the brighter in the background and the darker in the foreground; framing subjects with other objects, and so forth.
When obeyed, these conventions create a feeling of harmony, like the way expected chords in music can resolve a song. And I think we recognise the skill. You can see the intention behind the image; you can see it's not an amateur shot.
In the best-case scenario, the harmony of image coincides with striking content -- it can seem as if God smiled or frowned. There's a coincidence of an event of human significance with a composition that accords with human notions of beauty or balance.
Part of what makes an experienced photographer is the human eye for the "decisive moment" at which to press the shutter button, and the trained, image eye for when the universe has reached out and blessed someone for just a second with good lighting or composition.
In the worst-case scenario, the harmony can feel forced, stilted, too formal, constraining or boring. We're overused to the conventions.
So, putting to one side the excitement of content, much of the breathing of life into an image, much of the excitement of composition, lies outside the law.
Instead of arranging subject neatly on thirds, you might do an extreme crop. And sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. For you can't do just any extreme crop -- there are rules here also, and new rules being developed; it's just that the feeling for when it works and when it doesn't precedes the conscious articulation.
Dan O'Day has to be one of the best wedding photographers anywhere; certainly one of the best in Australia. There are many striking qualities of his works, and one of them is the breaking of rules. Perhaps the feeling is, "My camera just happened to be pointing in that direction, and just happened to catch that moment." The sense of a forced, staged, constrained image is alleviated.
In the following, note the cropping of people's faces, or the slight imbalance, or that, instead of a perfect horizontal, there is a slight tilt. It all adds to naturalness.
In a more obviously "artistic" image, the viewer is thinking as much about the shot as the content (for instance, extreme wide angles or cropping). But it's possible to combine the following:
-- "decisive moment"; pressed shutter button at just the right time
-- art of the accidental -- breach of rules to create feeling of naturalness
-- yet maintaining overall a feeling for balance.
I'm often a little ticked when people hold up "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as the answer to all our moral problems. I'm ticked because it just seems to me glib and simplistic.
For one problem, consider something like the US and UK government spying on their citizens, where the government justification involves an appeal to utilitarianism and the greatest good. Well, how does the golden rule resolve the conflict of values -- security on the one hand vs privacy and freedom from domination on the other?
For a second problem, one can look to Kant. When his "categorical imperative" is compared to the golden rule, Kant replies with a differentiation -- "as you would have them do unto you" is contingent and dependent on psychology, whereas the imperative is supposed to be objective and above mere psychology.
Another way to express this: consider Christopher Nolan's Joker.
The Joker in Dark Knight is a man who, as Alfred says, "just wants to see the world burn". He doesn't care about money (he torches it), and he doesn't care about his own life (giving Dent the opportunity to kill him). He delights in madness.
So should the Joker do unto others as he would have them do unto him?
The more general perspective on both of these problems is this: when we try to judge whether a moral rule or a moral system has got it right, two of the principles we look to are:
-- whether the rule/system actually does anything, in the real world, to help resolve moral problems (as with government spying);
-- whether the rule/system produces outcomes that match up with our moral intuitions (as with the Joker doing as he would be done by).
The same criteria, of course, are used when choosing between systems of meaning and religious belief. And they're more or less what we ask of our empirical theories -- to provide as many answers as possible whilst requiring as few revisions to existing beliefs as possible.
There may not be a perfect moral system; there might not even be a system free from all contradictions; but I think the dream must be that somewhere out there, for any particular place and time, there is a system of best fit, which maximally satisfies practicality and intuition-matching.
Otherwise -- perhaps do away with system building altogether.
I'm not a religious person, but I used to approach art with veneration. So, the equivalent of a church for me was a movie theatre or an art gallery.
But I don't know now that there's anything spiritual, ultimately, about art. I reason: the spiritual is timeless and universal, but art is about the "human, all-too-human" -- about pressing buttons to elicit emotions, about culturally specific patterns. And rather than being grand and mysterious, art's effects often seem explicable in terms of psychology, biology, evolutionary theory, etc
Best way into this whole can of worms is to look at some debatable "mental illnesses". Homosexuality, pedophilia. Are these, or are these not, mental illnesses?
And once you ask that question, you're led on to further questions, one of which is trifling, but troubling. Are "mental illnesses" misnamed in the first place? A bodily illness is usually (but not always) something like a virus getting into your body and replicating. You can classify the illness by its cause, it has defined phases, and you can relate it to biology -- you can see it under a microscope. Many (but not all) mental illnesses, in contrast -- you don't classify by cause, but by symptoms; there aren't defined phases; and you can't relate purely to biology, but have to also talk about behaviour, society, environment and even things like feelings and thoughts
In Fred Saberhagen's Swords books, the Olympian gods exist and are worshipped. But these books are set in our world -- thousands of years in the future. It seems that, over the space of aeons, the gods have arisen from the collective dreams of humanity. And, likewise, at the end of the series, they fade away as humanity's dreams turn elsewhere.
To make a quick, obvious point: is it not the same way for us? Do we not create our gods? And do these concepts not arise and change over time, a mirror of us, and dependent on our dreaming? The god of 2012 AD is a lot more liberal than the god of 2012 BC; and its ideals, wants and priorities are different