Where is the meaning of an artwork? Does it come from the object that we view? From the artist’s intention? From the viewer’s interpretation? Or from the culture and institutions which enshrine it? The late 20th century saw an explosion of texts such as Arthur Danto’s “The End of Art” that recognized a crisis in the meaning of art that has not been resolved today. As the use of media expanded and the monopoly of a single Western metanarrative was increasingly challenged, art could no longer be defined according to historic notions of aesthetic beauty. The conceptualist trajectory inaugurated by Duchamp complicated the remit of art, suggesting its meaning came not just from how it looked, but also a content that was extraneous to its presentation. Taking recent essays by writer and artist Claire Lehmann and philosopher Peter Wolfendale as a point of departure, this event proposes to examine the multiple channels which inform the production and reception of art, and to locate new ways of thinking through these processes.
In her essay “Color Goes Electric”, Claire Lehmann examines the development of color photography and its admission into the canon of contemporary art. While photography has long been considered to be indexical to its subject matter, the incorporation of color into the medium raises a unique challenge to this idea, as the colors of the world had to be transformed into the information of film—a highly mediated operation designed around the complexities of human visual processing. The responses of the eye must work in concert with memory, preference, and physical stimuli to produce “pleasingness”; but whose preferences—whose eye—does the camera privilege? And how has the reproduction of photographs shaped and reinforced those processes further? Lehmann shows how corporate objectives and consumer preferences deeply inflected the development of color imaging as a technical process, and how photography as art was influenced by its cultural imbrication.
In his recent paper “The Artist’s Brain at Work”, Peter Wolfendale reconstructs the dialectic between aesthetic and semantic models of art, presenting an alternative information based model that synthesises the two. He argues that art intervenes on multiple levels of human cognition. Our senses are not merely passive receptors of form and color (like the indexical view of the camera), but are influenced and reinterpreted by semantic and cultural practices which articulate this information in distinct ways. Wolfendale’s explicit framing of the human as an informational processing system offers a means to consider the capture and development of human perceptual systems on the technological level. These transformations propose new capacities for art, but also new critical questions regarding the development of technologies, as is demonstrated by the development of color photography.
The common thread in both of these author’s presentations is the idea that how we model the systems of technical or human production must be more deeply considered. Moreover, these systems cannot explain the whole of art’s practice in themselves, but must be thought in conjunction with a broader discursive environment. This event will consider a dialogue between the concrete issues of a particular practice raised by Claire Lehmann’s presentation and the general framework offered by Peter to ask new questions about how we understand the production and reception of artworks as a particular kind of human technology. Peter and Claire’s presentation will be followed by a panel with both presenters, moderated by Joshua Johnson, and including the artist Pieter Schoolwerth.
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