Will, thanks for taking the time to put these thoughts in writing. This is why I come back.
In general, I think you're right that artists seldom discuss their gear. I would only qualify by adding that sometimes the gear other artists use isn't that interesting, so there's not much to discuss. If the art we had in common was charcoal drawings, we'd rapidly exhaust the possible gear debates. Photography, in contrast, has such an enormous amount of gear to discuss.
There's another wrinkle that I believe explains the prevalence of gear forums versus photography-as-art forums. If you're making charcoal drawings, chances are very good that you're an artist, or you're trying to be one. However, huge numbers of people use cameras and have no ambition to be artists. Indeed, many people have cameras and don't have particular ambitions to be photographers; I think of them as people who like cameras rather than people who like photography. There's no judgement implied hear. Taking pleasure in owning nice cameras and lenses is a perfectly fine thing to do. Nonetheless, the result is a high diversity among people who descirbe themselves as photographers (leaving aside the much larger number who take pictures every day with their phones but wouldn't call themselves photographers).
Absolutely yes (to the idea that art is difficult to discuss). In photography circles, the conversation seems to veer between two poles: generalities rooted in what people like, and conversations among the MFA set in International Art English
As an aside, this is most of the reason why I don't put pictures up for "constructive criticism" in photography critique forums. Almost without exception, the critique rarely goes beyond "Nice capture", and when it does, it tends to involve people giving you technical instructions ("You should have lit her with a rim light", or "Dial back saturation").
That sounds incredibly refreshing.
Alas, building on my previous point, in my experience, there are few people writing about photography who can articulate what they think a strong image is. This is all of a piece with your point about art, and explains why the vast majority of books on photography are about f-stops and Photoshop.
The frustrating thing is that the language and ideas we need exists. Connections to the deep understanding that exists in other visual arts are rare. Worse, photographers have invented a language of composition (rule of thirds, etc.) that is quite disconnected from the much more robust and mature understanding in painting. To the extent that I have any useful knowledge about composition, it comes from reading books for painters, not books on composition by photographers.
This makes perfect sense to me, and gets at a topic I think receives insufficient attention in photography circles. Namely, what it is that is distinctive to photography relative to other visual arts. In my view, progress towards strengthening photography as an art form has to begin with a good understanding of photography's distinctive "thing". For me, in simplistic terms, it's that our starting point is the real. Perspective, lens choice, framing ... all these things are part of how we decide to represent that real.
It's not that the tools don't exist; as I said above, they certainly do. Rather, it's vastly easier to write about resolution and dynamic range.
Here's a case where the exception proves the rule: photographer David DuChemin wrote a book he titled, Photographically Speaking
, wherein he offers the "language of photography". I use it in my teaching because it's accessibly written and spends more time on the topics we're discussing here than almost anything else I've found for students. However, David freely admits in his writing that he's making it all up
, rather than offering a window into the "language" that exists in other arts.