Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where and When Does the Act of Engagement Occur?
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

One of my passions is to create Post-Graffiti artwork on cloth. A series of posts on this blogspot have addressed issues in Graffiti and Post Graffiti Art as well as presenting images of such art. I have listed some of these below for your enjoyment.
Time Dimension in Art
Unleashed: The Rise of Australian Street Art
New York Spray-Can Memorials
Another Brick
Cultural Graffiti
Beyond the Fear of Freedom
Oh, Oh Marilyn and Mona@Spoonflower
Neu Kunst: Mona & Marilyn
Paste Modernism 4

Where And When Does The Act Of Engagement Occur
I have often stated that there are three necessary conditions that all artworks possess: (a) they must be “engaged”; (b) they are non-functional; (c) they are aesthetic. To make the "necessary" conditions clearer: (a) engagement - unknown buried art objects are not art since there cannot be an act of engagement; (b) functionality - wearable art is “art” when placed in an art context, but when placed in an non art context (e.g. when it is worn) its functionality obscures the act of engagement; (c) aesthetic - if we were blind, water color paintings or ArtCloth (where the hand of the cloth is unaltered) could not be conceived by our restricted senses and so would preclude an act of engagement. Hence the latter art forms - in a world without sight - would be not deemed as art.

Marie-Therese Wsiniowski's ArtCloth Work: Global Warming - Surviving Remnants (see earlier blog for series)
Technique: MultiSperse Dye Sublimation technique on satin.
Note: The hand of the cloth is unaltered.

The act of engagement is now a critical necessary condition in that it encapsulates a conscious or sub-conscious interaction with art forms. It is by its nature temporal and personal. The person needs to be awake, but does not need to be in a particular state of mindfulness; that is, the exact neurological form that the act of engagement takes on is not definable at present. (Whilst monkey’s can paint, they are unable to discern or articulate what paintings of theirs they like or dislike.) Hence, there needs to be a biologically evolved homo-sapien's form of mindfulness with respect to the act of engagement of art forms. Note: It does not matter if there are higher or lower life forms in the universe, they will never have the same evolved chaotic "collective" view of art as homo sapiens.

Painting by Congo (chimpanzee).

When I have given this reasoning in art talks to an art audience inevitably questions arise with respect to new forms of art (e.g. Graffiti, Post Graffiti Art, ArtCloth etc.). Are these legitimate art forms? Some members of the audience seem to have difficulty in accepting "Street Art" (or evolved forms of it) as a valid art, since examples of it are not held in the collections of the Louvre, Tate or MOMA etc. (thereby unwittingly defaulting to an art institutional theory of what constitutes art). So where and when does the act of engagement need to occur for it to be deemed as art?

Marie-Therese Wisiowski's ArtCloth work: Millenium Palimpsest.

It is clear that there are "agreed" places that have been purposely built to promote the act of engagement of art. For example, early museums had their beginnings as the collections of wealthy individuals or families or art institutions of rare natural objects and artifacts. The first modern and public museum was the Louvre in Paris, which opened it doors in 1793 during the French revolution. It became the blueprint for many public museums that followed.

The court of the Louvre with its pyramid at night.

The types of museums today vary greatly, from large collections that cover a wide range of categories of art to narrowly focused museums that may concentrate on a particular subject, such as on the art of a single person of note. What they house and display has also altered significantly – from object-based art to non-figurative art to art installations etc. However, no matter what the size or what they house and/or exhibit, museums and galleries are “agreed” places where the act of engagement occurs.

The Tang Dynast. Leshan Giant Buddha near Leshan in Sichuan province China. Construction began in 713, and was completed in 803, making it the largest stone-carved Buddha in the world. It is in a public place.

There may be "non-agreed" places. For example, Graffiti Art often makes use of "non-agreed" places such as on buses, trains, fences, walls and pavements etc. Although there is no agreement between the Graffiti artists and the viewer - with respect to the latter being able to loiter in front of the artwork - an act of engagement may nevertheless occur in these "non-agreed" places.

Graffiti Train Message. Tags: Atos (see earlier blog on street art).

Many public places have been especially set side in order to allow an act of engagement to occur. Statues, sculptures, mosaics, and murals (to name a few art categories) find themselves in public spaces. Whether an act of engagement does occur - or whether the art form is blurred into the background - is in the providence of the passerby.

John Robertson-Swann’s Vault (Yellow Peril) Melbourne, Australia.

Many public accessible places - that are privately owned (such as corporate spaces) - also promote the act of engagement with respect to art forms.

Corporate Wall Hanging: Margo Lewers’ ArtCloth work – 05 (1976) (see an earlier blog on her ArtCloth works).

To answer the question posed in the title - where and whenever there is an art form and a mindful viewer, artworks will be engaged. It is therefore unreasonable to claim that art forms held in art collections or categories of art forms sanctioned by art institutions circumscribe the totality of art. Clearly, an art form or art category sanctioned by art institutions is a "sufficient" but not a "necessary" condition that it is art. For example, how could Christo's artworks be housed in galleries or museums or even be sanctioned by them? Art philosophers will claim that "Christo's Art" is contained within the photographic image. That may be "an" experience, but not necessarily "the" experience. For example, we may view the Mona Lisa in situ once in our lifetime. Nevertheless, we may view photographs of it a multitude of times. The photographs are "an" experience, viewing it in situ is "the" experience.

In the presence of transient art, "the" experience is fleeting by its very nature and moreover, by design. These and other transient art forms (such as the native American sand paintings and Australian Aboriginal dirt paintings) will always be sanctioned and engaged as art whenever and where ever they are engaged by non-believers. The institutional theory of art in terms of the necessary and sufficient conditions that define art has been well and truly discredited - even by art philosophers. Art forms can be engaged anywhere and at any moment or even within a moment in time. After all, isn't that the way we engage art physically - within a moment in time.

Christo: the Reichstag wrapped in silver fabric. Photograph. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Web. 30 May. 2011.

Hence, Street Art, Graffiti Art (or evolved forms of it), ArtCloth etc. do not need to be collected by art institutions or shown in "agreed" places in order for these works to be deemed as art. It is art since it satisfies the three necessary conditions and moreover, it is viewed as art by its practitioners and by a cohort of its viewers - where ever and whenever it is displayed or exhibited.

Navajo Sand Painting 1907, Library of Congress.

1 comment:

Lesley Turner said...

thank you Marie-Therese for these clarifying insights