Does subject dictate message in an artwork?
11 May 2009 4 Comments
Cinnamon Soup’s question of the week is as follows:
What do you consider to be more important, the subject matter of an art work or the message it conveys?
My response to that question, which touches on something that’s been in the back of my mind for the past few weeks anyway, is below:
An artwork’s message is contingent to a large degree (but not entirely) on its subject, isn’t it? Then again, messages aren’t always received by viewers as artists intend, even in the case of realism.
For years now ,clouds (mainly thunderstorms, but some more of the fluffly kind recently) have been a significant part of my inspiration and subject matter. When I’m crafting storms or clouds from clay or wood I have my own reasons and hopes for how a viewer will receive that message, but I’m fully aware that’s often not the case. People see whatever they want to in clouds — bunnies, ducks, firearms. In fact, we [Americans] expect to see things in clouds that aren’t there.
And here I am creating fairly realistic sculptures of thunderstorms and fluffy cumulus clouds hoping the viewers see, at the outset, storms and clouds. This paradox intrigues me, and is, perhaps, itself becoming part of the subject matter in my sculptures the more I continue in this atmospheric vein.
Adding: Thought this related to the question above:
Art is not merely or even partly a “communication” of “messages.” It is not a visual illustration of a philosophy, idea, or sign. It is not a preformed idea that is wrapped up in artistic material that the viewer then unwraps to “get.” As I never tire of telling my students, art is a complex and tense hypostatic union of form and content; it is about its “howness” (form) as much as its “whatness” (content). There is nothing to unwrap. This is why art should not be “read,” “decoded,” or otherwise considered to be the sum of its constituent parts. It is to be experienced—contemplated and communed with, dwelt upon. This of course is dangerous, because an aesthetic experience can do unexpected things to you. And given our own differences in experience that the work of art engages, our responses to the work will be different.
From The Other Journal