Art Must Communicate—Immediately

We are told repeatedly that it is impossible to please everyone, so we might as well make art to please ourselves. That is not terrible advice, as far as it goes; but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. If we make art only to please ourselves, we run the risk of creating masturbatory art. (See “Art or Masturbation?”) Don’t we really want an audience larger than our three fellow artists who “get it”? If so, perhaps we ought to change our approach to the work we create.

This is not to say that our art does not have to satisfy our own aesthetic; certainly, it does. But shouldn’t our art try to communicate our vision to an audience outside ourselves? If we’re not going to do that, why bother to create an artifact in the first place? We create to record or reproduce our vision. This, though, is not enough, at least not for Edgar Degas who said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Reading that quotation this week caused me to think about how artists approach their work in general. (And thanks to Lori McNee [@lorimcneeartist] for the tweet where I read it.) Many artists are so intent on transferring what they have seen and felt to the page or computer or canvas that they forget they have an audience. They don’t concern themselves with making their art to “make others see.”

When we do concern ourselves with that, it changes how we think about what we do. Communications theory holds that the responsibility for the success of the communication rests squarely on the person doing the communicating. If the other person doesn’t get it, it’s the communicator’s fault. Likewise, the responsibility for whether a piece of art communicates rests on the artist. When we accept that, we concern ourselves with not only recording our thoughts and feeling and insights in our art, but in being sure that the audience “gets” those thoughts and feelings and insights as well. So our focus changes; we become concerned with structuring our art so that it becomes accessible—at least to that group of people that we call our audience.

If we do not adopt this approach, we run the risk of looking and sounding as foolish as a stage director I knew once. I happened to be in the vicinity of the bulletin board where a newspaper review of the recently opened play just been posted. The reviewer said essentially that the direction of the show was muddy and s/he had difficulty determining what the play was really supposed to be about. The director of the show stopped, read the review, and began to rail loudly to anyone who would listen that the reviewer should come back as many times as it took for him/her to understand it. He completely missed the irony of calling for an audience member to repeatedly attend an art form that is designed to be absorbed and understood in a single viewing. And he had no idea how arrogant and foolish he sounded. (By the way, the reviewer was correct—the direction of the show was muddy, and the play went nowhere.)

Most of the art we create, even if it is not theatre, must be created with the idea in mind that our audience is likely to see it only once and must be able to grasp at a single viewing what it is that we are attempting to communicate. Realistically speaking, our work will probably not be hung in a museum or saved in a library for leisurely study by our audience.  Our work can be subtle, but it must communicate immediately. Once we realize this, and adjust our process accordingly, we are likely to see a change in audience reaction—for the better.

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Date: Sunday, 18. August 2019 23:08
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Communication

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