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Art as a parasite, and its recipient hosts

Let’s start with a contemporary legend: It is rumored, not in the least by Mr. Doctor himself, that the Devil Doll’s first album was not “The Girl Who Was… Death”, but “The Mark Of The Beast”, a record of which only one copy was pressed, and which copy is owned by Mr. Doctor. According to his own words, «This is a painting, not a graphic work» (see how the ontological quality of the work of art changes according to its singularity, in the mind of the creator – or the audience. I ask, however, is it a “painting” indeed, or just a copy of one, since the performance that was recorded in this copy is a particular event in time, and what in fact exists in that copy is just a representation of this performance?) This is the first but not the only such example. Wu-Tang Clan recorded the Once Upon A Time In Shaolin… album in 2014, which was again pressed in just one copy.

Considering the different kinds (both quantitatively and qualitatively) of recipients, what is the purpose behind art creation in each case, and how is it experienced? Can there exist Art without any recipient? And what does the answer to this question mean for Art as an entity?

The work of art as a vessel and the fluidity of its content

A work of art is a vessel, which is usually addressed (consciously or not) to a recipient or recipients. It is a vessel, since it carries a content, which is contained within a form of art, within a broad template of sorts one could say. For instance, a painting’s template will always be a surface, be it flat, concave, or just virtual (a painting could have depth, consisting of layers with a different proximity (to the viewer) factor, yet the image that the viewer sees is in its essence that of a surface, since all vision boils down to a two-dimensional image), a music piece’s template is a temporal space in which exists sound, etc. The artwork’s content is both shaped and restricted by these templates as well as by the creator’s experiences (which shape his personality, hence also his inspiration).

A work of art may be finalised* as to its presentable content, but its shape, its thought-form in the mind of the audience, never stops transforming as people experience it through their own prisms, as they interpret it through their own personalities (where personality is the constantly changing sum of a person’s experiences). What is the content of an artwork then? John Dewey, in his The Live Creature essay writes: “[…]In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. [Yet] the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience.[…]”. There is its physical manifestation (appearance, sound, etc), but this is just the material shell. The essential content exists in the mind of everyone who experiences it, since the work of art cannot elaborate on its content (in cases where the artwork is a person or persons, the content (for them) exists in their mental image of themselves as artwork, ending up to them being receivers of their own art-being), always shaped by (and shaping) the receiver’s being. In essence, there are as many contents as there are receivers. Thus we are talking about a fluid entity. A work of art’s physical, “real” self, is something that is outside the grasp of any being, because as one person experiences it, that person creates a mental image of it, in order to interact with it, that is based upon the material/physical content, but is shaped by that person’s mind. There can be no pure image, since there cannot be a pure, physical, human being, uninfluenced by society and experiences. A song exists in as many mental copies as there are listeners of it, as does a movie, a building, and so on.

*A short note on finality/completion of artworks: Not all works of art are finished, or can be finalised, as far as the artists involved are concerned. Theatre for instance, is an ongoing process of creation (apart from the text), that is reevaluated with each rehearsal, with each performance, but not necessarily in a progressive way (or else it would be the norm that the final performance of a play would be the “best” one and its premiere the worst).

The act of art creation and the motivation behind it

The action of creating a work of art sums up to this: The artist goes through a procedure of steps in order to distill, through the use of materials and frameworks available, an essence, an imaginary state, a depiction of reality, a host of (conscious or subconscious) thoughts, into something that can be perceived by another entity, though the existence of an audience is not obligatory.

What are the reasons behind this act of creation? If we omit the case in which the work of art is created with persons other than the creator in mind as recipients, then we are left with 2 non-mutually exclusive options: either the creator creates for creation’s sake, namely she draws something (satisfaction, honing of skill/technique, or any other desirable emotional or mental state) from the action of creation itself, or/and she does it in order to experience the finished work as a recipient herself. That last option is (up to a point) invalid in the case of one-off art creation that is not recorded and not repeated (for instance a non-rehearsed dancing or acting performance with no audience – apart from the artist). On the contrary, when art is created with an audience of different people in mind, other than the creator, reasons can be diverse: economical, political, religious, educational, the urge for acknowledgment, practical (the creation of utensils for everyday use, with non-practical decoration embedded in their practical form – the reasons for this inclusion being also multiple), recreational, etc.

Of recipients

As far as the work’s recipients are concerned, in their more extreme and limited manifestation, they consist of solely the creator artist, as is the case in the aforementioned Devil Doll case. Nevertheless, the recipient is always a different entity from the creator, if one thinks of the fact that even the same person changes qualitatively as it moves upon the temporal axis (which also takes us to the conclusion that a work of art is created by an infinite multitude of entities, since as time moves forward, even in infinite-small increments, the person changes). Indeed, if an entity is a multidimensional vector with spatial and temporal coordinates, then, since time always moves forward, at least one of these coordinates change, resulting in a sequence of points with different coordinates each moment, namely different ones. Even if we don’t accept this line of thought, the artist who experiences a finished work of art created by him, is a mental entity slightly different from the one creating it, since the person changes mindset roles (from transmitter to receiver).

1.The artist-recipient’s experience

In the case of the “creator artist as also the receiver of the final work of art”, it is obvious, as aforementioned, that she will experience the finished artwork from a point of view different than that of the creator, akin to that of an uninvolved (in the creating process) audience’s, yet not exactly as such, since the memory of creation is always present (apart from cases in which the creation was performed in a completely altered state of consciousness, of which no conscious memory exists – and even then the possible unconscious memory traces are a thing to take into account). The artist-recipient experiences her artwork through the prism of her past experiences, through the prism of her entity as a being shaped by a multitude of factors (social, political, economical, historical, educational), as is the case with all audiences, but also embedded in that prism is the knowledge of the creation. Thus, she may feel satisfaction, awe, disgust, and any other emotion, not only because of the work, but also because of the knowledge that this work was created by her. This interplay is not to be underestimated, not in the least in cases where the work of art is specifically created for the artist to be the only receiver. Finally, the uniqueness, the one-of-a-kind quality of the work of art in question, is also a factor that affects both the creation process as well as the later experiencing of it by the creator. Mr. Doctor may well knew, for example, while he wrote “The Mark Of The Beast’s” music, that he would only make one copy, and that knowledge could obviously shape the music-writing itself. Format/framework restrictions aside, when one creates art for just one’s self, he can express things that he would would feel hesitant to if the creation was destined for an audience more numerous than himself, things which may be considered inappropriate (according to the artist) or just uninteresting for other people to experience or learn or think about. Also, the knowledge that “one has in his possession the only copy in existence of something”, can affect the way that he experiences it, thinks about it, etc.

2.The Audience’s experience

In the case of the existence of an audience of people other than the creator, as is the norm, things are a bit more straightforward. As written previously, the artist creates for a multitude of reasons. The audience too experiences art for a variety of reasons, voluntarily or not. The fact remains, that the receivers experience art through their personality prisms. They come into contact with the vessel and its content, and this interaction creates on a surface level a psychological state, be it emotional or just indifference. The audience may be predisposed towards an emotional state, if it has foreknowledge of the artwork’s theme (for instance if it knows that a movie is a drama or a comedy, or a painting is famous for its anti-war context, it will be correspondingly predisposed), and thus the experience itself will have started developing before it has “formally” begun – shaping the (in the strict sense) perception of the artwork. For example, in the case of a film advertised as comedy, a hypothetical viewer, having in mind that the film is a comedy, may watch it testing unconsciously its comedy factor, may translate as comical some scenes, that were not “supposed” to be such, or were ambiguous. Moreover, the emotional state of the audience is influenced by the persons’ (cultural and personal) experience; what may seem comical to one person may differ drastically from what seems comical to another. Even the personality roles/facades that the person has adopted for the (art experiencing) situation in question (see Giddens’ “Sociology”) may have impact on the outcome.

Beyond emotional states, the contact between audience and work of art leaves traces in the receiver’s entity, however faint or untraceable they may be. From large scale paradigm shifts (i.e. a person who watches “Truman’s Show” may start interpreting situations through the “Unbeknownst to me, my life is mankind’s central point” lens), to the adoption of mannerisms and language, to the judgment and filtering of a whole art (sub)category via a particular work. Though in most cases the traces can be non-consequential and even untraceable, this does mean that they are non-existent. Moreover, one’s mental image of an artwork can circulate via communication, and influence others’ own mental images of it, ending up shaping the communal image of the work, in different degrees, depending on one’s means of transmission of her mental image, as well as the audience it reaches. This happens not only via normal ways (formal reviews and critiques), but also through implementation of the image in something that she creates and communicates (even a seemingly irrelevant sentence may be influenced), and which will be received by another person, will be embedded in its personality prism, and then, when that second person experiences the work of art that started it all, its own mental image of it may well be influenced by the first receiver’s image of the artwork, leading up to a third mental image. Thus is the ultimate Birth of the receiver-transmitter realized. The receiver shapes the image (and ultimately content) of that which she receives, and then may re-transmit this changed image outwards, leading to a network of broadcasts that continuously shape the never-finalized communal image of the artwork.

One example may clarify things: Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is a theatrical text of the early 17th century. Kurosawa’s reinterpretation of it in “Throne of Blood” was obviously influenced by the Japanese director’s mental image of Shakespeare’s play, since it is a reenactment of it, but also from his personality and culture (the setting change being the most obvious twist). When a person that has watched “Throne of Blood” reads the original text, his thought-form of it will be influenced by the Japanese movie. Also, even if one has not watched “Throne of Blood”, his image of the play will be influenced by the way he imagines this historic era, which in turn will have been influenced by a multitude of factors, artistic, social, political, ending up creating a unique image of it, that may then be communicated to a network of familiar or not persons, adding up to their experience of “Macbeth”, and so on.

Art as a parasite

Lastly, in the case of a work of art with no recipients (where neither its creator is one of them – speaking on a theoretical level), there can be no mental image of it and consequently no communal image, since no one has experienced it. Thus, it exists only in pure physical form (or digital), waiting (maybe indefinitely) to find a recipient, not unlike a parasite waiting for a host body, so it can be apprehended as Art. The “material” is definitely existent, but it is not Art if it doesn’t come into contact with a human being, since the concept of Art is a human, culturally created one.

In the case where an audience exists but the artwork does not correspond with its concept of art, then there are two options: either the concept expands to include this new (for the audience) form of art, or its artistic value is discarded, leaving the Art aspect of the work in question latent. From this statement, one can deduce that, hypothetically, all things have an artistic aspect, waiting for the person or society of persons whose concept of Art will include this aspect.

24 Oct 2015

Tags: theory   2015
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