In a recent email from a self-proclaimed "fellow photo-geezer", whose site I visit almost daily, the geezer wrote:
.... the majority of my ‘audience’ never spends more time on the images than to identify the subject matter. Sad, but true.
That observation is, arguably, "sad, but true". However, in a real sense, it is a phenomenon predicated upon the medium of photography's primary characteristic - its ability to render realistic representations of the real world - hence elevating the depicted referent, in the eyes of most viewers, as the raison d'etre for the making of a picture.
iMo, in the case of snapshots, the depicted referent is, in fact, both the reason for the making of a picture and for holding a viewer's interest in that picture. That notion, together with the fact that snapshots are the most commonly made type of pictures, accounts for the subject matter centered attitude of most viewers of pictures.
However, my "fellow photo-geezer" is not engaged in making snapshots. His picture making intentions are more concerned (or so it seems to me) with the making of pictures which exhibit an artistic sensibility. That is, iMo, pictures which are not dependent upon subject matter / the depicted referent for exhibiting artistic merit, but rather upon sensory properties - shape, line, value, color space, etc. - which are organized to create unity, balance, imbalance, movement, stasis, serenity, agitation, etc. All of which is implemented to evoke an emotional / sensory response in the eye and sensibilities of a viewer.
A response which can be, and most often is, totally independent of the depicted referent in a picture. A visual phenomenon which is capable of creating a beautiful picture even though a depicted referent is not a thing of conventional beauty.