Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Art as communication

I am presenting a paper at Cyber2008 in Stockholm next week. My talk is entitled Information and meaning: complexity, surprise and context in telecommunications and art.

I did a practice presentation to colleagues yesterday, and this unearthed some issues that I will need to emphasise or that will need further explanation. The paper builds partly on some the issues I've been exploring here, and I intend to develop the ideas further in later posts.

I am using a layered model of communications to provide a framework for understanding art. (One of the issues I need to emphasise immediately, is that I am not claiming to be contributing to the content of the framework: my contribution is the framework itself.)

Here's the starting point:

Fundamental is the assumption that the artist is communicating something to viewer. I think that must be the case, if the artist is doing anything. A couple of points about that:

1) A tree is not art by itself. A painting of a tree is art. A photograph of a tree is art. Maybe a tree can become art by someone pointing to the tree and saying it is art. Maybe the tree even becomes art whenever someone points at it and just says "look at that tree", but I think there has to be someone to be the 'artist'. (See my related post on intentionality.)

2) The artist need not be conscious of what he or she is communicating. Indeed, my belief is that art works because it comes from the subconscious. I see the subconscious mind as huge compared to the conscious mind (the iceberg analogy). The reason that poetry, music, paintings etc do things that prose does not, is that they are communicating the subconscious. (Though actually I think prose can do the same, by communicating 'behind the scenes'. Well-crafted prose can move us just that same as poetry.) (See my comments on Solomonoff talking about Freud.)


martini said...

I enjoyed the taster of your panel presentation on Wednesday David. The Hirst LSD painting reminded me very much of Bridget Riley and her Op Art genre that plays uses optical effects to disturb vision. She worked in black and white a lot (even smaller jpf files!). See example at the tate (with poem):

I also had a dig around in a few of my books at home left over from when I was studying art history. I was hoping to find something to substantiate my claim that some (modern) art may not be about communication. Nothing conclusive, but those that mention art as communication often cite Tolstoy, see p.123:,M1

Not sure what the contemporary take on 'art as communication' is, but here's another book that traces the evolution of the 'art as communication' argument and modern art theory's response to this - certainly some arguing that it is non-communicative, see chapters1 & 5, but some pages missing from preview sadly:


David Chapman said...

Thanks. I'm hoping that by declaring myself to be a communications engineer I will be forgiven for arguing that art is communication - even if I am perceived to be 'wrong'. It will be a line of thought that I will follow up over the next few months, so those leads are really useful. The Tolstoy in particular is one that I will make sure that I have with me next week! I hadn't taken in that you'd studied art history - thanks for being gentle about my ignorance!

martini said...

Well when I say studied... I got half way through the OU's Art and its History course (A216) once: