24 October, 2023

Eye of the Beholder: Art and its Audience


Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07573


Affirmation: Artists should be beholden to their audience because art is created for the audience. By its nature, art is intended to be displayed and appreciated, and therefore the audience is integral to the artwork itself.


Negation: I agree that art is generally created for an audience, but this is not always the case. Not all works produced by artists are displayed to an audience, but this does not mean that they cannot be art. Creative works are lost, destroyed, or sometimes just hidden away; does this mean they cannot be art? What if, for example, Picasso made a painting alone in his studio and ensured that no one ever saw it. Do you mean to say that this painting would not be art because it had no audience?


Affirmation: You misunderstand my point. An artwork can be beholden to its audience without needing to be displayed. I mean to say that an artist has his audience in mind when he is creating a piece of art.

Negation: But when Marcel Duchamp placed a sideways urinal on a pedestal in 1917, his audience was horrified and denied that such an exploit could be considered art. Today, “Fountain” is a key feature of the art historical landscape of the 20th century and has influenced countless artists.   Without artists who were – and are – willing to disregard the preferences of their audiences, would we have innovative and unexpected artworks such as Duchamp’s “Fountain”?


Affirmation: I didn’t say that an artist must please his audience; I mean that it is inevitable for an artist to consider his audience when creating art. An artist might intentionally infuriate his audience without detracting from his art.


Negation: You suggest that all artists have an audience in mind, but what of people who are not recognized as artists by the audiences they created for? Think of folk artists such as Clementine Hunter. Her paintings, originally considered worthless and unskilled scribbles, have received wide recognition in recent years and now many hang in contemporary art museums. The original audiences of many folk artists did not consider their creations to be art. Sometimes time must pass for an audience to come along that appreciates a particular artistic style. Clearly these original audiences were irrelevant and the artist was not beholden to them.

Affirmation: Does it matter that the audience came later? The point is that there exists an audience, which raised Hunter’s paintings to the realm of art. Beholden means to be indebted to or obligated to, and clearly Hunter is indebted to the audience that considered her paintings to be art.


Negation: What of the other meaning of beholden: to be obligated to? Artists are not obligated to their audience. If a person creates something and decides that it is art, then it is art. An audience is unnecessary, and artists certainly have no obligation to an audience.


Affirmation: If what you say is true, then everything is art. Without an audience – such as the public or a group of peers – to serve as a critical entity, there is no distinction between that which is art and that which is not.


Negation: I don’t find this conclusion to be problematic. Life is art. Art is a flexible and fluid term; it is not only unhelpful but impossible to unequivocally separate ‘art’ from ‘not art’.


Affirmation: But if everything is art, then arbitrary items like my phone case are art.


Negation: I think the most important feature of art is the artist’s intention. A machine crafted your phone case, not human hands. It was intended to be a functional object, not something to be appreciated for its own sake.


Affirmation: Art need not be crafted by an individual. It doesn’t even need to be conceived of by a single person. Jeff Koons has hundreds of assistants in his studio to craft the designs he envisions. During the Renaissance it was typical for master artists to direct workshops filled with apprentices who assisted with paintings and sculptures, or even completed entire pieces. And it is not unusual for artists to collaborate on the concepts behind artworks such as in the case of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s massive installations all over the world. And furthermore, art can be functional; think of Dale Chihuly’s blown glass light fixtures or Bauhaus posters from the 1920s.

Negation: Regardless of these artists’ processes or the purposes of their creations, the common thread is their intention to create art. By art, I mean they wanted to create something with aesthetic value. An audience is not necessary as long as the artist is satisfied with the art they have created.


Affirmation: It is impossible to consider aesthetics without considering an audience, even if the audience is the artist himself. Aesthetics are inherently sensory and subjective and therefore cannot exist unless someone experiences them. You claim that there is a fluid distinction between what is art and what isn’t; I posit that there is a fluid distinction between artist and audience. Without an audience, art doesn’t exist.


Negation: What you say means that anything that is observed and evaluated is art. Everyone is an audience. Do we really want artists to be indebted or obligated to everyone who views their work? Shouldn’t artists have the freedom to create without needing to consider their audience?


Affirmation: Artists have the freedom to create whatever they want, but many – if not all – pieces of art are products of the society and culture from which they are born. Having an audience is necessary because art cannot exist in a vacuum devoid influences and expectations.


Negation: But there is a difference between audience and socio-cultural influences.


Affirmation: I agree that the two are distinct, but it is impossible to have one without the other. Societies and cultures cannot exist without people, and vice versa. Audiences are comprised of people so they likewise cannot be separated from the societies and cultures they represent.


Negation: So we have discussed the role of the audience, which you claim is essential because artists can be indebted to audiences who deem their creations as art or artists can be obligated to audiences who influence their artworks.   While I agree that artists are often beholden to their audiences for these reasons, I maintain that this is not always the case. I believe that art can exist in a vacuum, in which case an audience is irrelevant.


Affirmation: Well I disagree with your final point, because if neither an audience nor an artist declare something art, it never will be art. However, I understand your earlier assertion that art is fluid. How can we definitively determine whether or not artists should be beholden to their audiences if we can’t agree on what “beholden to an audience” means?


Negation: I think the root of our disagreement is whether or not audiences are necessary for artists to produce art. I believe audiences are unnecessary, you disagree. I don’t believe artists are beholden to an audience, nor do I think they should be.


Affirmation: And I think art and artist can never be separated, and I don’t think this should change.


Source: thehoya / Au: Olivia Huppman


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