Monday, March 05, 2012

Thing Plus Time and Voilà!

Maya Funerary Urn
I'm by turns amused and but also intrigued how an abandoned doll or some utilitarian thing, even a broken fragment of clay, pulled from millenniums old mud is hailed hundreds or thousands of years later as an object of art. Because, it seems to me, by this measure, the answer to the age old question 'What is Art' is pretty simple:

Art = Thing + Time

Notwithstanding a previously mentioned idea on this site that music be defined as an applied theory of patterning (Beauty, Chaos, Design and Musicology), we might equally suggest that Art, in general, presents a relationship between a Construction and a Construct.

So, equally:

Art = Construction + Construct

Construction might be anything, whether man made or not. Whereas Construct indicates the framing device, which may be a literal frame, a proscenium arch or gallery space; or Construct may indicate a conceptual framework, such as an idea, or time. Indeed, in the case of artifacts recovered as a result of archaeological exploration, and which find themselves eventually sitting on a mantle in a museum, we might equally state:

• Art = Object + Frame

• Art =  Idea + Organization

Obviously, if our intent is to communicate a specific message with the expectation or reciprocal understanding, then creator and congregation, designer and devotee, musician and season ticket holders, –then all parties to the signification must share fluency in the same code.

That this doesn't happen all the time, and that some find enjoyment in things they don't understand, doesn't negate this premise. There is great enjoyment to be had, for instance, in the attempt to understand. What is and isn't jazz, for instance, is an argument that not even the musicians who play the music can seem to agree on. Not to mention that most people can be observed to watch a musical performance, but much fewer actually listen, and even less understand. And yet, (hopefully) all return home suitably entertained or enlightened.

So, it's not so much that we enjoy an evening spent in an ignorant disposition, but that we enjoy the cognitive activity of decoding art, assuming that at the same time we are possessed of this experience, the designer or a curator also provides us with the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone by which we might arrive at some understanding of the artist's intent.

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