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  • Ihor Biloushchenko

Can you change the reality just by looking at it? The impact of the spectator.

Have you ever dreamed of the power to change the world around you just by looking at it? There is an “observer effect” in quantum physics that demonstrates how the act of observation can change the behavior of atoms and particles. Of course, while looking at art, the paint doesn’t start to move around, but what exactly happens with art while someone is observing it?

Spectator transforms the art

Through different mediums, art has the unique ability to capture and express the complexities and contradictions of the human experience. Often, the creation of art is seen as one-way communication from the artist to the spectator. But can art exist without an audience?

Art critics often provide a framework and contextualize the artwork. Sometimes it is wise to rely on this information, but often an artist touches multiple layers of perception, making the interpretation more individual. Critics may have a deep understanding of the history and technical aspects of art, but the viewer's emotional response is just as valid and valuable. I think that art critics and spectators are equally important in co-creating the artwork; they both contribute to the different aspects of the perception of art. Here we can agree with Michael Fried, who said that "the viewer's presence does not just add something to the work of art but can transform the work of art itself" (Fried, 1998).

In contemporary art, it is not just the physical artwork that matters, not just aesthetic beauty or technical skill. The art is as well about the touching emotions, new ideas and thought-provoking conversations. This makes art a subjective experience without a clear formula for measuring its value. Jacques Rancière sees the spectator as an essential part of the artwork, as they bring their interpretation and understanding to the piece (Rancière, 2009). The spectator’s emotions and reactions interact with an artwork, creating a new layer of meaning to the piece. The artwork comes to life, and it makes the spectator a co-creator of an artwork. In the line of the recent discussions about copyright, it is even more interesting to question to whom the art piece actually belongs.

Subjective biases

Of course, the interpretation of an artwork can be very subjective and influenced by different factors, including personal biases and cultural background. Under personal biases, we can consider the knowledge about the artist, used medium, or chosen subject. Cultural background influences the global and symbolic understanding of the work. By interacting with an artwork, we bring our experiences to the world we see through the eyes of the artist.

The spectator is not a passive receiver of information but an active participant in the creative communication. The role and impact of the spectator are undeniable. So it makes us two, the artist and the viewer, who can question the world around us or, like Paul Klee said, "Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."

What do you think? Do we really change reality just by looking at it?


References and further reading:

Berger, J. (2008). Ways of Seeing. Penguin Books.

Fried, M. (1998). Art and objecthood: Essays and reviews. University of Chicago Press.

Hughes, R. (1993). Nothing if not critical: selected essays on art and artists. Penguin.

Klee, P. (1973). Paul Klee Notebooks. Thames & Hudson.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). Eye and Mind. In The Primacy of Perception. Northwestern University Press.

Rancière, J. (2009). The emancipated spectator. Verso Books.

Read, H. (2008). The Meaning of Art. Penguin Books.

Simon, N. (2016). The Art of Relevance. Museum 2.0.

Witkin, R. (1995). The Social Value of the Arts: Towards a People's Culture. University of Massachusetts Press.

More questions to think about:

Can art exist without audience, or do spectators co-create the art work?

Is the spectator's emotional response to an artwork a valid way to measure its artistic value?

Who is more important in co-creating an artwork: art critics or spectators?



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