“When creating non-objective art we are climbing out onto the very end of an unexplored branch of communication and then we build a bridge.”
If all art must communicate something on a humanistic level, then how are we to navigate art that is not relatable to that which we currently feel we know? As viewers or listeners of non-objective artistic expressions, how are we to apprehend meaning, however intangible, from such art? Here we will investigate the role of the artist in creating non-objective art in hopes of achieving a modicum of understanding regarding her/his responsibility in the matter.
To being let’s clarify three terms. Representational art is art that makes clear the object(s) being portrayed. In the visual world the best example would that of an average photograph that one takes of a friend. In it we can clearly see who the person is and we get a good idea of where they are and what they are doing. In auditory art we might refer to a song. In most songs the meaning is clear, there is a clear intended emotional content. In abstract art, though an understanding of the subject matter becomes obscured, we can still see or hear something we recognize albeit distorted in some manner. Finally, with non-objective art there is no recognizable object per se. It is the latter that this writing is focused upon.
The line between representational and abstract art is often unclear. One could go so far as to argue that all art we currently describe as representational is actually abstract because it is a representation or symbol of the object(s) being represented and so to a greater or lesser degree it is an abstraction. On the other hand, the lack of recognizable form is relatively clear to any observer when experiencing non-objective art. The derivation of meaning is squarely on the shoulders of the observer. Taking this into consideration, in the studio I intentionally and deliberately create a “grid” in each piece of art… a general framework for the experiencer knowing that they will fill in the gaps based upon their own personal and social conditioning. So meaning, in a very literal sense, is quite subjective. Each person will create the meaning they derive from any piece of art. The artist who feels otherwise about their work is being perhaps naïve.
Considering all this, what then is the responsibility of the artist when creating non-objective art? Is meaning requisite to “good” non-objectivity? Certainly there are many examples of non-objective art that are clearly without any conscious form. A kindergarten artist who is haphazardly finger painting is an example. We do not intend to diminish the work of this artist, however their work generally lacks any cohesiveness that can raise it to a higher level. Marcel Duchamp said that I am an artist and so if I say something is art it is art. Then he went to a factory and picked out a urinal and called it art. While this was a daring and novel move at that time, it has been relegated to novelty over the following years. Here we, as responsible artists, hope to engage the experiencer in a more dynamic and powerful manner… one that will evoke participation in a two-way communication between the art and the experiencer.
Here we assert that the responsibility of the artist creating non-objective art is to find a way to create meaning, however illusive, in their work. We could liken creating such art to creating a new language. It is my intention, in each of my musical compositions, to do exactly that and it requires a dedicated composer and listener for any hope of communication to occur. However, if such dedication is present, perhaps over the course of many years, a depth of interchange that is often absent in communicative exchanges will reward the persistent composer and listener.
To continue and extend the language analogy, when creating non-objective art, we must create syntaxes (words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs…) that lead to the creation of elevated levels of semantics (meanings). This can be accomplished by creating relationships that exist between the elemental forms being portrayed. So for instance, a musical phrase that recurs in varying relationships with other phrasings and occurs in varying forms creates a recognizable, a cognizable, character that provides a listener with something to relate to. It is through an extensive network of these formal relationships that we can guide, and be guided, through a world that would otherwise have no tangibility.
One must establish a syntax and semantic that is independent… sort of autonomous… of the world. So the rhythmic, chromatic, spatial, tonal, (and any other possible elemental aspects of ones work) relationships must be created from nothing… We cannot depend upon the experiencer’s memory to guide them along for if non-objective art is true to its description, then there is no past reference to engage. We require the experiencer to attend the current moment and to assemble the pieces as the composer or artist reveals them. Knowing this can act as a wonderful and powerful guide when producing non-objective art as well as in experiencing it. Instead of wandering endlessly in an uncharted wilderness not knowing which way to turn, which can be stifling and overwhelming, we now can chose a direction with confidence, assured that persistence will reward our diligence. We will find our way home.
Another pertinent analogy for this approach is in a novel, a play, a movie… in them, there are characters that appear at different times throughout the story. They interact with the other characters or their environment in various forms as they evolve until resolution occurs. So we establish memorable elements to which we continually refer throughout a work in various forms. We change them through their interaction with other elements and we cause attention-based questions to occur in the experiencer. Where is this going? Oh! That element was constantly repeating and morphing in a certain pattern and then it drastically changed! What a surprise! Oh yes, I remember something similar to that from earlier or elsewhere in this composition. Let’s hear it again… Let’s look again… Oh yes, I get it! This is how we guide the experiencer through an otherwise impossible maze of intangibility that exists in non-objective art. This is how we bring our audience with us on a journey into the outer reaches of our imagination. Creating non-objective art is a challenge unsurpassed by creating abstract or representational art because we must construct the entire framework from which meaning can be derived. Without doing so we at best create a novelty… at worst we construct something that is meaningless, intangible, and bereft of anything remotely communicative. In the end, communication is all there is between human beings. It may take place on a verbal and tangible level, with all its limitations, or it may take place on an energetic level, which is unknowable and yet nonetheless relatable on a much deeper level.