Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Art, vagueness, interpretation and the oppressed

So the other day I finished up my entry for a local art prize. A mixed media piece on the hatred of difference and it's injustices. And a friend who had encouraged me to enter when asked about her views on the piece suggested that it was too direct, too clear.

Now I knew what she was saying (I did study art formally years ago). That often how people respond personally to an artwork is to the vagueries, the blank parts and the indistinct. They then project of themselves into those spaces.

But i'd been dissatisfied with this phenomena in art for a long time. Sure it may be easier to make an artwork profitable by making it so vague but full of nebulous and indistinct symbols as to encourage people to populate it woth their own feellings...

But then all your doing is making a rorschach inkblot.

And during this conversation the part that really annoyed me clicked!

Art without some clear meanaing is really just an inkblot. Devoid of genuine truth or impact beyond the ease with which it captures the viewer, merely building flypaper of nonsense. My teachers droned against illustration etc, and I understand their points, but no matter the potency of an artists personal symbols if they cannot convey at least some of the same meaning to the viewer then they are not truely invoked.

And it occured to me how that works with marginalised groups art.

Because the interpretations of those vaguenesses and unclear symbols will be coloured to an incredible degree by biases. Just as many find the case when their issues are in public discussion and it gets imediately turned around to the concerns of the privileged group and what it means to them, how it effects them etc so too are all these nebulous spaces that so easilly allow a viewer to identify with an artwork also allow them to intepret in a way that they are comfortable with!

Or if the art is unable to be comfortably interpreted they will see it in a light where it is meant to disturb them on a general level. Which in a way will also make them more comfortable. But they will avoid as much as they can naturally to view the material in such a way as to actully comprehend the artists intent if that makes them call into question their biases.

Using this vaguery may make artworks more popular and help them sell but it means that the power of the message is diluted to one that will more easilly fit the comforts of the privileged. Sure sometimes artists can shock or lure viewers out of their comfort zones
but often in ways that the viewer will not easilly understand and so will not gain much from.

So i looked at my artwork, with it's symbolised blood clearly representing blood unambiguously, with the words scrawled in pink over the photo stark and certain. And I felt good about it.

I don't know if it will sell, I doubt with all the great artists in town that it will win any of the prises. But I know that anyone who takes enough time to look, to read the images and the words, are going to understand what I meant whether they want to or not or find it comfortable or not or agree or not.


hauntedtimber said...

Do you have any pictures of your work? :)

Battybattybats said...


I finished in a rush so only snapped a couple of poor pics on my cameraphone and probably can't post any pics online till the competition is done.

But when its over if it doesn't sell I'll try and get some better pics to put up :)

hauntedtimber said...

Ah, cool. I'll be back to check them out.