August 9, 2006

Meaning and Definition

If the recent memorial postings on this site have seemed a rather somber tone for summer months, this post may prove a remedy as I have escaped my suburban confines to a sandy seaboard and sense a renewed contemplative mood stirring as I gaze out at the flat Atlantic's horizon. . .

A young artist recently asked me to expand on the “meaning of a work of art” and whether the addition of a text or "explanation" would "enhance the interest or expose the mystery of the piece?”

These are legitimate questions and frequent readers of this blog, as well as my blogosphere sparring partners, doubtless realize that I consider these important if not essential issues to engage. Eschewing my usual citations and quotations from the entrusted sources, I shall simply address these two questions directly.

The meaning of a work of art is both relative to the sensibilities of the viewer and obscure to the artist who created it. Various techniques, strategies and theories have arisen to delay, distract or deny this, but the fact remains that a work of art will convey no consistent and “true” meaning to the multiplicity of viewers who will happen upon it during its exhibition life-span. To escape this dilemma, artists naturally drift into the “it-means-whatever-you-wish” mode, abandoning their responsibility for the continuation of a discourse that constructs the theoretical and rational support for the work. This is why I have previously written that ”the meaning of art is defined by the system.” The discursivity of that “system” facilitates “meaning” and, as such, is the generative factor in any putative meanings a work of art may represent.

The other question posed by this artist is a very personal one for me. Those familiar with my art are aware that my work “explores text as a language for painting, literally using my original writings about art as the subject.” Thus it is obvious that in my particular practice, text absolutely enhances the “interest” of the work because of the specificity of my process. However, this is where my own unique process diverges from traditional representation, because that process literally creates the form the work will take; there is no illusory image, no aesthetic “ordering of elements.” This way of making art is directly related to one’s own theoretical approach to a definition of what art is, or should be, and is not for everyone. Yet to add a textual “explanation” that “talks about the intention of the work” may also help to define one’s definition of art, and certainly assist in the purveyance of an active discourse about these ideas as mentioned above.

Above image: "What does this say?" (3rd state detail) Copyright 2006 by M. Cameron Boyd; on exhibit at DCAC's Wall Mountables until August 13, 2006.

1 comment:

Craig P. Webb said...


Of the artists who also use text within their works; which have the most influence on you?