Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Three Positions of Interaction with an Artwork

the artist
the viewer
the culture


I first wrote about Michael Anne Holly’s book, Past Looking:  Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image (1997) in Isaac Stolzfuts Journal in 2004.

Rene Magritte’s painting, “The Human Condition” has a particular relevance to this discussion because it demonstrates Magritte’s understanding of the fluidity of images.

I will be looking at this topic for the next two entries at least.  It is important to understand how the three positions work because Postmodern Reception Theory has granted agency to the viewer/reader of the artwork.  However, as an artist, I am the one who manipulates matter and energy to create the art object.  My position is that the act of creation constructs meaning based on my ideas and intentions, and that a thorough reader is able to partially reconstruct my intent along with his/her own interpretation of the artwork.

Michael Anne Holly is a proponent of  one type of Postmodern Reception Theory and she compares and contrasts the various forms of reception theory in her book  Past Looking:  Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image (1997).  Interestingly, I found the final chapter of her book, to be an abstruse and subliminal attempt to restore both the historical art object and the act of creation to primacy, whether or not Holly recognized that fact.  This attempt was hidden within a complicated explication of the related work of Hans Robert Jauss, and Wolfgang Iser in which Holly’s stated objective (the opposite of the hidden agenda) was to describe the importance of the “reception” of the art object in the present.  The hidden metatheoretical game attempted to circumvent the postmodern reliance upon the reader of the text, though Holly appeared to be perfectly comfortable with that reliance.  Holly had also described the act of signing the artwork as the act of giving up all privilege and ownership to the receiver of that object.   But, ironically, she provided a comparative analysis of reception aesthetics that returned the power of the work to its production in history through its interception by a fictitious reader, that is anchored in the art object’s historical inception.

To Be Continued

*1  The image, “toggle”, is located at MSC Industrial Supply Company Website, “,”  (9/15/09: 11:45 P.M., EDT.) or *1 The image above was found at, (01/14/04:6:42 A.M EST.)

*2  The Human Condition by René Magritte, 1935.
The University of Hong Kong, represents the complete work, and is a low  resolution image.  The use in “The Art of John Bittinger Klomp illustrates an educational article about art criticism, and it is not replaceable with an uncopyrighted or freely copyrighted image of comparable educational value. (09/15/09 9:50A.M EDT.)

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