From Our Archives
Whats Mine is Yours
except when its mine
Art belongs to the audience. Period. End of discussion.
But first I should
point out that I am not a lawyer. My opinions have no more foundation
in law than common sense and some simple ethics, so theres probably
no foundation at all. And Im not talking about copyright or residuals
or estates here. This isnt about what lawyers for huge corporations
say, or what supreme court justices far removed from the real world say,
or what lawmakers in parliament and the back pockets of those same huge
corporations say. Its not even about what multi-millionaire rock
stars and movie moguls say. This is about what one artist says. About
art. And about who that art belongs to.
an artist. Im an actor, a writer, a game designer, and I keep
meaning to be a painter again if I can ever get myself to an art
supply store. In addition to doing these things Ive also studied
them to various degrees. And Ive studied and pondered and
discussed the nature of art with other artists. So, while Im
no authority on the subject, I think Im qualified to put forth
my two cents as to who owns what.
Art belongs to the audience. Period. End of discussion.
Well, almost the end of discussion because there are some ifs, ands, and
IF an artist keeps his work a secret and never shows it to anybody else
then its his. AND thats about the only exception. BUT he is
still an audience. Probably not the qualifiers that my artist friends
were looking for, so Id best explain myself. Art is, at its
heart, a form of communication: the artist wants to say something, to
convey some idea or feeling or principle with his art. A painting of a
bowl of fruit, a photograph of someones mother, a poem to a lost
love, a film about two guys in a car; no matter how simple or cliched
or iconic a piece of art may seem the artist is trying to communicate
with it. All communication can be broken down into two components, the
symbol and the symbolized. A symbol is any device or artifice which represents
something else and the symbolized is the something else. I really cant
give a better definition than that, not without sounding like one of my
old university professors and using unnecessarily big words and esoteric
arguments (and you thought I did that already). I could try to give some
examples, but the problem would be using written words, which are symbols
themselves, to explain the idea of the symbolized. Bear with me, I think
this might work.
Everyone who read that word had something
pop into their head and no two of those things going pop were identical.
Some of you thought of a pine tree, some a palm. Some of you thought of
a tree in a forest in winter, some in your living rooms at Christmas.
Some of you thought of a specific, particular tree from your memories,
some of a generic amalgam of every tree and tree symbol youve ever
seen. And none of you saw the tree that I saw in my minds eye when
I typed that word, which is why the audience owns all art.
Thats a symbol. You know what it symbolizes, I hope, youve
probably seen one in a park. Other common symbols for it include the spoken
form of that word, various visual representations, including photos, paintings
and carvings, and a very nice little poem by Joyce Kilmer. The difficulty,
even in as simple a case as this one, is that the symbolized is different
for each and every one of us.
An artist is trying to communicate something with his art. He is using
symbols to convey a symbolized that exists only in his head, heart, and
soul to his audience, to the minds, hearts or souls of his audience. But
the simple fact is that he can not ever completely succeed. If a simple
four letter work like tree evokes a different response, a different image
in the minds of everyone who reads it, imagine how impossible it is to
evoke precisely the same response in an audience with a painting or a
sonnet or a two hour play or an eight hundred page novel. To be fair,
an artist is unlikely to use something as generic as the word tree as
his art. But "tall, verdant, snow covered pine tree on a lonely outcrop
of rock" wont evoke the identical mental image or emotional
response in any two readers either. Even a photograph of a particular
tree wont evoke the same response in an audience because no two
of us see that photograph through the same frame of reference. Every person
sees the present filtered through the lens of his own personal history
and everyones personal history is unique. Even conjoined twins,
linked at the hip, see the world from twelve inches apart. Although an
audience might share a common language, a history, a culture, even a belief
system the individual members of that audience nonetheless perceive the
world, and any piece of art in it, in slightly different ways. But whats
most important is that the audience will see that art differently than
what the artist was trying to convey.
An artist creates a symbol, but it is ultimately up to the audience what
that symbol means, what the symbolized is. A skilled artist will create
a symbol that means basically the same thing to his entire or intended
audience as it does to him but it is not identical, it is impossible for
it ever to be identical. The audience is the final arbiter of meaning
because it is the audience that provides the final symbolized, their own.
The audience owns the symbolized belonging to their individual frames
of reference, therefore the audience owns the meaning in their minds and
hearts and souls, and therefore the audience owns the art.
Unless the artist never gives his art to an audience. If he keeps it secret,
for whatever reason, then its meaning is the meaning he meant for it,
and it belongs to him, the artist. Over time, however, as his wealth of
experience grows, as his own frame of reference changes, then his art
will symbolize something new to him. He will have become an audience but
he will still be the sole owner of his art. I am an artist, and my art
belongs to my audience. But some of my stuff, I dont show it to
anyone else. Some of it is just too personal, and some of it is just too
horrible, and some of it is just incomprehensible. And that stuff is mine.
© Colin James Haslett
I Look Like a Serf?
Colin James Haslett
can die if he doesnt get any'
The Problem With Modern
Parenting is... Nobody Does Any
sound like a lot of work? It is. Its still called parenting'.
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