Sorry for the late reply...I did not see this thread till now.
Wow! First let me say that I am delighted by the serious, thoughtful responses, with no raised feathers in evidence ;-)
Don and Soulless; I can relate, to a degree, to the flat on the back, staring-at and contemplating the night sky experience. The "degree" being such that I bought a nice small telescope (Tele-Vue 76 and a bunch of eyepieces, Wimberly head, etc.), and spent more than one "meteor shower" night on top of a nearby hill-top with eyes/tele/and binoculars, learning a basic few of the constellations and pondering the imponderables of "What's out there?"
I am amazed and awestruck by photos such as the "dime sized portion of the sky" content shown us by Hubble, …
and some of the recent TV programs about space are fascinating .
My willingness/ability to spend the time/money/study needed to get to the more satisfying capability-levels, vs. devoting the same to my other interests seem have dictated that this will be the limit of my personal astronomical exploration.
To each his own however, and I wish much pleasurable enjoyment to those who choose to delve deeper. ( I suppose there is such a thing as "dis-pleasurable" enjoyment, … but that is for the kinkier types ;-)
I am stunned by the thoroughness of your reply! You have provoked a lot of thought indeed, …and enlightened me far beyond my previous limited understanding of "astrophotography".
I have some idea of the time and effort required to put so much meat into a response, and want you to know it is very much acknowledged and appreciated.
I relate most to your description of the involved processes as "art", satisfying in its challenges and the achievable results. I have all I can find motivation, time, and money for in my other interests -- guitar, art (hands-on, not computer) and most captivatingly, small boat design(also sans computer, …only old-fashioned calculator, eye, ducks and splines) which somehow relate to one another through the commonality of pleasing curves (there is something about the lines of a figure, a guitar, and a beautiful hull, that I find inspiring).
I especially note your comments that many of the astrophotographs closely approximate what the human eye might see, if properly placed in space. The belief that this was not so has been one of the factors in my feeling that these photographs were more fantasy than reality. Since I am more interested in what beauty actually exists to be seen, rather than in what fantasies someone might "imagine" for me, I was pleased by your statements.
I think that the series of images entitled (something like) "Powers of Ten", makes clear that a person could spend a lifetime observing and learning at any of the levels, and still remain ignorant of the universes contained within each of the others.
So, I guess it is appropriate that we each be guided by our own inner compass, in traveling our individual paths.
I would be interested to see the products of your efforts, or those of others of a like mind-set, which are achieved after both the $100,000+ investment in equipment you describe, and the years of study and experiment that would enable its competent use.
Thank you, again, for taking the time to give attention to my inquiry