During a visit today to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, “Probably the finest exhibition site for sculpture in the world.” (Bill Packer, Financial Times), I took the opportunity to review the intention and meaning that some of the artists attributed to their work. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, but was left wondering what came first, the creation of the work, or the idea explaining the work? So was the work derived from a thought, or was the thought, an after-thought.
While some of the less abstract work clearly reflected the artist’s idea, it would still be difficult to know as a viewer of the art whether the idea was constructed before or after the art. Or perhaps the thought emerged during the making of the art? Does it matter?
On the other hand, the abstract work could arguably have any number of valid ideas or explanations attributed to it and the viewer could accept any of them. Again does it matter?
Kenny Hunter, says the following about his work Bonfire (2009), which comprises a few small bronze castings of bonfires:
Overall my work can be summarised as an attempt to translate the longstanding historical and political ambitions of traditional figurative sculpture into a revised sculptural language appropriate to the current cultural situation. The aim of my work is to question certainties and stereotypes, introducing a variety of fact and fiction into sculpture that is descriptive but not representational of the ‘real’ worlds.
Now to me the artist’s work did not conjure up the ambiguities between ‘fact and fiction’ or ‘descriptive but not representational’. I was simply left with a sense of pretentiousness.
Julian Opie’s work, Galloping Horse, is explained as ‘investigating the idea of representation and the means by which images are perceived and understood.’ He initially takes photographs of his subject matter and digitally manipulates the photographs, reducing their characteristic features to a bare minimum. Opie himself is quoted as saying:
Things in my experience don’t look photographic… When I recall the things I did in a day, for example, it’s not as a series of photographs, high resolution pictures. It’s a series of images which resemble symbols and signs. It’s like another language.
I found it is easy to relate to these ideas and see it reflected in the work. Somehow the artist’s words had integrity.
So is the meaning of art largely a matter of personal perception and subjective? Similar to Kant’s opinion on beauty – it cannot be argued based on logical facts, therefore it is necessarily subjective. While the artist’s perspective and intention is valid and interesting as an intention. The meaning found in the art by the viewing is, therefore, equally valid, even if different from the artist’s intention.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park website – http://www.ysp.co.uk [accessed 25.5.15]
All photographs by Andrew Fitzgibbon.
Kant I (1892). Critique of Judgement [ebook]. Second edition (1914) , McMillan and Co, London. Available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433 [accessed 15.5.15]