Sunday, October 25, 2009

more ambling

this post is more of a response to responses to a previous post but i think it's worth exploring further. A.H. asked: ...what about questioning the truth? An artist may choose to present an opportunity to ask "what is the truth?"; allowing the viewer to explore an issue from a new perspective, taking the viewer on a journey to examine their own beliefs, values and assumptions.

and i agree. but when we say "questioning the truth", don't we really mean "questioning that thing that is masquerading as the truth"? aren't we really speaking about the artist unveiling or unmasking? aren't we referring to their task as a presenter of truth and revealer of lies? one of my favourite books, the prophetic imagination by walter breuggemann, refers to the truth-telling function of the voice of the church - which i think also extends to the voice of the artist (in whatever medium):

the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the of the dominant culture around us. they are to criticize the status quo and energize us to action. simply, it is to identify those things that are not as they should be. (emphasis added)
in other words, art is about a hermeneutics of hope.

A.H. also asked: ...what about the viewer's role? Each viewer brings their own knowledge, experience and bias to the viewing process and this influences what they take away from the experience.

obviously, every viewer does indeed bring their own "baggage" to their viewing of a work, but my position is that one does not begin there. if that's your starting point, it's not really about the art, it's about you. and art is not first and foremost about the viewer. it does not, in fact, simply exist as a blank template upon which the viewer imprints their own desires and psychology and hopes and fears. i actually think that's a very modern approach to, and attitude about, looking at and thinking about art. art is about me. well it's not, actually. or at least not particularly. that kind of thinking brings us to the place where "art can mean [radically and completely] different things to different people". poppycock. i think that is only possible if art is all about the viewer's [personal] experience and not about the relationship between the viewer and the art. and i think that is the wrong way to approach art. let me explain.

it's like that c. s. lewis quote i referred to in the previous related post. we have to come to art with a willingness to engage in a conversation, and that means at least as much listening as talking. all of that is ultimately mediated and shifted by the viewer's open-ness to what the work is communicating, exploring, offering. in fact, the simple process of starting with describing the work, and making connections between those descriptions, and then [slowly] moving to interpretation (rather than jumping to our interpretation immediately - almost without even really looking at the art) will help bring a greater balance to that interaction.

i prefer to believe that the art (and artist) is trying to communicate something. it may be a criticism or it may be propaganda. or it might be asking us to consider something (but let's face it -- that usually does have an agenda). one would hope that the artist has exercised some responsibility as an artist and has thought through and considered the work they have created, how its materiality, presentation, context and imagery/ symbols conveys the message. that being said, if we exercise some measure of the same care in reading/ looking at the work (i.e. deciphering), we really can't simply interpret the work however we want to -- we have to engage with what is there. and while our experiences et al certainly can colour those interpretations, i think the core will be pretty consistent. in anything, our experience should enrich and add nuance to those interpretations.

then again, i'm an idealist. and very demanding of both the viewer/ reader and the art i look at. and my own ideal viewer/ reader.

happy international artists day!

(this also happens to be picasso's birthday)