I’ve been thinking today about what makes something a work of art and what makes something effective as a work of art (as opposed to ineffective).
Assume the following scenario: a viewer has a negative response to a piece of art. He or she sees something and expresses dislike or disgust. In that case, I would argue that as the viewer had an emotional response, even though it was negative, that artwork was successful, even if the artist had hoped for a positive response. In other words, any response is a result. Even ‘My two year old could do that’ is a response. Some might argue differently about this issue but that’s another debate. This is not what I am talking about here.
So assuming that a negative response validates a piece as art, the next question is: what would it mean if the viewer felt no response at all to a piece of art? In that case, he or she would look at a piece of art and feel neither a positive emotional response or a negative emotional response. Does that mean the artwork isn’t valid as art? In other words, what does it mean if they see an artwork and feel nothing whatsoever about it, they feel complete and utter indifference, no emotion, nothing, zilch? Does that mean that the artwork that caused indifference cannot be regarded as worthy as art?
However, I am curious as to whether it is actually humanly possibly to be completely indifferent to a visual or sensory stimulus (in this case a piece of art)? I would argue that it is impossible to be completely indifferent to art (or a sensory stimulus designed to cause a response whether that be art, music or otherwise). In fact, I would challenge any viewer of art to be indifferent to a sensory stimulus designed to be ‘art’.
Therefore, can we conclude that anything and everything is art? That seems to be nonsense. Surely that can’t possibly be true? But if we take logic as our guiding light, what can the conclusion to this be? Can we even use logic here or will we just get so tangled up in circular arguments that we descend into madness?
Leaving madness aside, this debate leads me to want to take up the challenge of creating a piece of artwork that causes an indifferent reaction. Is that possible? It seems not if we take the above to be true.
However, I think there is a loop hole in the argument. I think I know how to do it and in fact I think I may have done it today without realising it. The idea came from a combination of thinking about Schrödinger’s infamous cat and the notion of the impossibility of non-existence which physicians and philosophers have been discussing since man first opened his mouth with a query.
The background to my idea comes from the thought that if the viewer is unaware of the existence of ‘nothing’, nothing becomes something, it can be described, it has a topology and it has a shape. Therefore, it is an object of sorts. Nothing is a hard concept to grasp though and scientists and philosophers have long battled over it. The Ancient Greeks didn’t even have a a concept of nothing.
If we perceive something to be nothing, we can be indifferent to it. Or can we? That is the one of the many questions that is rolling around my head at the moment. I suspect that there is a way we can be indifferent to nothing. That is, if we are unaware of the existence of that particular nothing, we can be indifferent to it.
My idea is for an artwork that is nothing and something. It is nothing yet it is something the viewer isn’t aware of, so their unawareness is translated as indifference. Ergo, indifference to art is possible.
Watch this Space.