Sunday, 1 December 2013

A work of art is constituted in the conditions of possibility for its reception.

This way of thinking about art doesn't tell us what is or isn't art in the sense that is usually meant. But it offers an approach to art that accounts for the workings of a work of art that are local to the artwork as it is conventionally conceived, as well as the wider conditions of reception for an artwork - the way it's shown, the way it's talked and written about, the history to which it's contingent… None of this is privileged in this idea about the constitution of a work of art. A further implication of this idea is that a work of art doesn't firmly dictate what is received by the viewer, it merely establishes certain allowances - conditions of possibility - for the viewer, who then does what they will with them.

For an artist this means that art making involves some kind of attention to the whole range of what constitutes the condition of possibility for its reception. Art making is not just then the making of a more or less conventional, localised, art object or experience, but involves attention to a much wider range of factors, whether they are made by the artist, or accounted for in response - all these things are properties of an artwork, neither more nor less than the conventionally delimited, local, art object or experience. It's also an idea that allows that the viewer will make what they will of what is given, but without removing the artist's responsibilities for their work.

Artists are all too familiar with questions about what their art is or what it means. Conventionally the response to such questions would be to try describe or explain, with a view to making clear in some way what the artwork is or might mean. If I take it that this process of talking about my work is not external to the work of art, then what is called for is not something that's aimed at explaining the work, but something that allows the artwork to work. An explanation may well reduce the working of a work of art, and conversely a lie on the level of explanation, or a certain affirmative sidestepping of explanation, might well allow the work to work more effectively, depending on the artwork at hand. It's an approach that was plain in what might be thought of at the total artwork of Joseph Beuys. However, Beuys' theatre enlarged the space of art experience at the level of the 'message' of the work, rather than allowing that what seems external to a work of art is internal at the level of the 'code' - the 'code' which allows the work to work. What is implied in the opening idea is a more radical idea of total artwork, that allows for the internality to the artwork of those elements that 'code' a work of art which seems external at the level of 'message'.

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