Two weeks ago, I talked about the arts and why I think they should be appreciated more, discussing the uniqueness of the arts as a form of communication between creator and observer that transcends space and time.
Then, I followed up that discussion with an argument about the objectivity of any observer’s experience of a work of art.
This leads us to the topic of the creator and their role in any piece of art.
But first, I think it’s important that we look at a dissenting opinion.
Written in 1967 by literary critic Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” was, and still is, an influential paper in literary circles; however, it’s reliance on relativism ultimately brings about its argumentative downfall. Despite this failure, it remains relevant, but not for the right reasons.
In his essay, Barthes argues that the author should be removed from any interpretation of a text, meaning that the intention and background of the author shouldn’t be included in any analysis of the text.
Although this essay only discusses literary works and my articles concern the arts as a whole, I wanted to start with this because it gets at what I find to be a fundamental issue with how we view art which is that there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an objective meaning to a piece.
Barthes seems to think that it’s the observer’s job to establish their own meaning of the text, not the creator, but this is, unfortunately, untrue.
Just as the experience of the observer reflects that person’s spatial and temporal orientation, the creation of a work of art reflects the creator’s spatial and temporal orientation during that creative process.
It is the uniqueness of these contrasting viewpoints and orientations dialoguing through the observer’s experience that fosters a space for introspection by which the observer can reflect on the value of what is being communicated to them. Thus, for this dialogue to exist, the creator must be considered.
Furthermore, because a work of art is both an extension of the creator and a form of communication that’s done through the medium of the art itself, the creator is instrumental to truly understanding what the work actually means.
For example, if someone receives a text message from an unknown number, it could be hard to decipher what the text means, mostly because there isn’t any context to what is being said, making context critical for understanding.
As a result, the creator of a work of art must ensure that his or her work is imbued with the proper meaning the creator wishes to get across, and that the meaning is communicated unambiguously.
It is here that I make an important distinction between what truly constitutes art as I use it and traditional usages. As discussed in my first article on this topic, the arts are a form of human expression that say something about the human condition, but if a creator doesn’t actually imbue their unique perspective into the work through deliberate choices, then it is not a work of art.
By making this distinction, we can also use a teleological, or purpose-based, framework to judge the value of a work later on.
All together, we have two different purposes, to entertain and to express something about the human condition, which are respectively associated with the economic and communicated value I discussed in my previous article.
For example, a dish may be considered a work of art by traditional definitions, but if the chef doesn’t cook their dish with the full, or partial, intention of expressing something about their spatial and temporal orientation, then the dish only has economic value as the work’s sole purpose is to entertain or make money, meaning that it isn’t a true work of art. The same goes for any type of creative expression.
In turn, the creator is important not only because their orientation is captured by the work of art such that the two are inseparable, but also because it’s their orientation, communicated through the art, that gives it the potential to provide noneconomic value to the observer.
Just as we should respect the objectivity of the spatial and temporal orientations that ground the observer’s experiences, we should respect the objectivity of the spatial and temporal orientation of the creator as it takes form in their art in order to cultivate an equal relationship.
Thus, to maintain this relationship and the communication born from the unique perspective that creates the art and the unique experience that observes it, the creator must thrive.