I waited to write these notes till now that I have nearly completed my study of Part 2 on Creative Reading because I wanted to put some distance in between not only of time but also of discoveries made and inputs received, books read and so on coming along my way during the course. I have kept an eye on myself and noticed that my perspective has been shifting all along and that in this second part I have perhaps developed a more relaxed attitude: after all there may be no final or certain answers in creation and art but only a challenging voyage of discovery and unveiling tentative and provisional meanings layer after layer.
The first suggestion by my tutor Dr. Michael Belshaw to consider that art might be difficult or impossible to define in terms of innovation and/or of quality – ‘we would happily say that something is pretty good, excellent or poor on a given scale, but one would not say such and such is nearly art, completely art or not quite art’ – has been really illuminating and a spur to check Arthur Danto’s position on this subject, according to another useful suggestion by my tutor.
What makes Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box an artwork setting it apart from the Brillo boxes in supermarkets, the ‘mere real things’? (Danto, 1981). Danto suggests criteria that are not based on intrinsic aesthetic qualities (they look identical), but rather historical ones (what can and what cannot be considered art in a given period of time), the fact of being about something and having a meaningful content (expressing an artistic vision), and the fact of being identified and so interpreted as art (‘transfigured’ into an artwork by an interpreter). And here I’m beginning to see the point made in my feedback: art as such is not easily definable as a measure of quality or pleasingness to the eye – there may be good and bad art and pleasant and unpleasant art – and before speaking about its aesthetics or value we must first identify it as an artwork since we judge art according to different criteria – as Dr. Belshaw pointed out to me in commenting my close reading of Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave.
Another important question arising from my feedback is how we can come to terms with an eternal paradox in the arts – ‘that we are taught to see art according to certain principles, methods and contexts that don’t simply give access to the work but compete with it’ or otherwise ‘the widening gap’ between ‘seeing and reflecting on seeing’. In this respect Dr. Belshaw suggested also to look up the term ‘performative’ in the context of the speech act theory.
I mulled it over in these months and as I progressed through Part 2, I gradually started to think that perhaps one way to tackle this paradox might be a different approach altogether. If we can’t really have an ‘innocent gaze’ anymore, this doesn’t mean that when we make or look at art or when we write or read a text we are to be necessarily intimidated and paralyzed by what we know in terms of methods and theories and get locked in a prison of self awareness and overthinking. A way out might be to concentrate oneself as creators or viewers/readers/listeners on the task at hand, leave the room and get out in search of some creative fresh air, be aware of methods and theories and then ‘forget’ them while we focus on a artwork or a text. As Picasso is quoted to have said: ‘It takes a very long time to become young’. I am not sure what he really meant by this, but my version is that it takes a very long time to learn and then to unlearn, a very long time and effort to develop an educated spontaneity in making and evaluating art.
In this regard I also think that the ideas born from both the speech act and the reader-response theories can offer invigorating and powerful tools.The notion that a visual artist or a writer can truly and effectively act on the public or the readers through their works, and so ‘perform’ in the world and establish an active and vital communication with it, and that in turn the public or the readers can actively respond to these works and creatively react to them, may be a wonderful way to generate new meanings every time this coming together happens in a sort of never-ending creative chain reaction. This open, ever-changing evolution of texts/artworks and the bidirectional relationship it creates between artists and public is perhaps a typically postmodernist attitude and so intimately linked with a contemporary vision, but I think also that it establishes a renewed and invigorating connection with the ancient oral tradition of storytelling in which the audience was directly involved and texts, poems, songs developed as they were performed.
Danto, A. C. (2013) What Art Is [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed 2.01.2017)
Loxley, J. (2007) Performativity [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed 18.12.2016)
Maes, H. and Puolakka, K. (2012) Arthur Danto: The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. In: 50 Key Texts in Art History (online) At: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/56975 (Accessed 2.01.2017)