Art and the Image: Lost in Translation


Active Sights: Art as Social Interaction is a highly interesting book I have been getting into recently and has illuminated the powerful significance any work of art (perceptual or conceptual) has on the viewer. In the beginning of the book, the authors Timothy Van Laar and Leonard Deipeveen, articulate that, “the diversity of art has more often been a source of irritation than of celebration”. To the public, art has often been misunderstood and the source of tension or conflict. Through Van Laar’s comparison of Alexander Calder’s abstract and entertaining sculpture La Grande Vitesse and Richard Serra’s sidewalk splitting, obtrusive and forceful Tilted Arc we see this same tension and also the differences in ways to approach art. Which proves Van Laar's statement saying, “Some artists seek to delight and entertain, others to disturb and confront” as said on page four but “sometimes an artist’s intentions for a work can seem spectacularly unreliable. It can happen that the audience’s perception of an artwork is drastically different from what the artist intended”.  This just shows how, more often than not, the general public misunderstands art. Even within the art community there is a wide diversity of critics whose “personal agendas have actually redirected the work” itself.  Van Laar writes, “In all cases, however, one cannot properly evaluate artworks if one is not clear on the social actions out of which they arise”. This quote sums up Diepeveen and Van Laar’s arguments for the importance of understanding artists spanning the five diverse social roles highlighted in the text (The artist as the skilled worker, intellectual, entrepreneur, social critic, and social healer). Diepeveen and Van Laar walk through the significance of each one in a historical and contemporary setting as well as each roles “heightened exaggerations” and “shadowy stereotypes”. In order to execute ‘good work’ one must hit, it would seem an Aristotelian golden mean. Further, if we are at all engaged in social actions Van Laar and Diepeveen argue that, “we then are obliged to distinguish these various social activities when we wither make or evaluate art”. But because we are talking about the artist in different social roles, we must ultimately understand Van Laar when he writes, “the best way one can understand, produce, and critique art is by paying attention to what a work does: the beliefs it embodies, the social roles it assumes, and its interactions with its audience”. So next time you go to the local art gallery or museum, attempt to understand the artwork from the artists point of view and contrast it with how you, as the audience, are actually receiving it. You will be interested to find that most of the time there is some sort of theoretical parallax that occurs in the translation from artist’s hand to audience eye.