The Art of Presentation

The problem is not the art, but the presentation. “Context Matters,” posted earlier this year, discusses the impact of the environment on how we perceive art. But a series of recent experiences has suggested that the problem might be even more immediate than the room in which the piece is being shown or the temperature of the theatre in which we view the performance.

A very good friend of mine who teaches art at a university has said that the one skill that is lacking from almost every art curriculum is that of presentation. He teaches, among other things, printmaking.  While paper selection is a part of the art work proper, whether to frame or not is a question of presentation. Once that decision is made, the question becomes what frame. Then there is the issue of matting: to mat or not to mat? If so, how wide, what color, what shade of that color, what material, what spacing and proportion?

While the questions may be different, these sorts of decisions are not exclusive to printmakers. It is a problem that is encountered by almost everyone in the arts. What sort of pedestal do you want for that sculpture? What sort of border do you want around the digital art on the web? How can you best display your set or costume designs? And still it is ignored in almost every kind of arts class.

The artist/teacher mentioned above goes to great lengths to incorporate presentational considerations into his courses. In his classes he always brings up the question of how the students will present their work to the world. Others of us do a similar thing in other arts skills classes. But, unfortunately, we are in the minority. And there exist very few courses devoted exclusively to developing presentational skills. For example, many colleges and universities who train actors offer no courses in auditioning, the primary way actors present their abilities to directors. In a quick search, I could find only one that had a course exclusively in auditioning. I’m sure that there are others; I hope that there are others, since auditioning is so fundamental to the profession and requires a completely different set of skills from acting.

There are many approaches to solving the presentation problem, almost all of them trial and error. An acquaintance of mine, a photographer, has decided to print all of his images on canvas wraps, which represents to him a clean, easy way to present his images. Whether this will work for him I don’t know; we will have to wait and see. While it is easier and less worrisome to find one way to present and then forget it, I cannot imagine a single method of presentation working for all images—unless, of course all the images are very similar.

Many experienced artists continue to experiment and explore different methods of presentation. What worked last year, or even last week, may not work today, or for this body of work. The goal, of course, is to present their work in the best light possible, knowing that audience acceptance is what engenders success in the arts. And why wouldn’t you want to take the time and effort to present your work in the way that would make it most appealing?

“The work should be able to stand on its own without worrying about how it’s presented,” is a wonderfully idealistic and somewhat naïve view. The fact is that presentation does matter. Experienced artists take this into account and spend a great deal of time making decisions about the best method of presenting the work that they have created.

So, whether you are a school-trained artist or self-taught, or some combination of those, finding the best methods for presentation of your particular artistic vision, of your particular talents and skills may require a fairly significant investment of time and energy. The results may well be worth it in terms of developing your audience. As Hazel Dooney says, “It’s not enough just to create. Professional artists need to figure out how to show people their work. Without an audience, art is a hobby.

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Date: Sunday, 26. August 2012 23:34
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Communication, Photography, Theatre

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