June 2012 Archives

My Beautiful House


Art is an activity that generates an object from a process of construction.

In this discussion of what that means, there are four special points included as a preface.

First, the notion of construction is the most important way to think about process, because it aims everyone's attention at the resulting product as opposed to merely at the end of a procedure.

Second, (as demonstrated at least by "conceptual art") it is understood that the constructed "object" -- the product -- may be an intangible: a rearrangement of the mind.

Third, the process of construction applies to all "art forms" and genres.

And fourth, while work is in progress, the artist may always change course: decide to aim for a different result, or to approach a desired result from a different direction. Because of those variations, it is always possible that under pressure of timing or schedule, the product of the work may get delivered in a version that is not "finalized". The finality is not what determines whether the product is art, is significant, or is effective. And furthermore, the process is fully capable of upending conventions of "finality". What actually becomes more significant is the degree to which the product is usable, which obviously has a dependency on how it is put into use.

The construction that is characteristic of art has an architecture that accounts for how the art product works and how it is usable. The architecture has four distinctive dimensions within which the process is active:

  • Design
  • Influence
  • Invention
  • Labor

The following surveys how this applies across several viewpoints of examination and discussion.


As the foundation of art, labor exerts force on an existing circumstance with the intention of causing a change. The nature of the change is that it is a relationship that the worker perceives between the initial circumstances (including materials), and a property or state that is needed for a functional purpose. People often expect that the type of change will be something that distinguishes art labor from other kinds, but it is here that technique is rooted, regardless of the materials that often distract people with the notion of "mediums" or, that is, "media". Media is circumstantial; technique is essential. But technique is exactly what you'd think it would be: the method of manipulation used to cause the change of conditions towards the needed functional properties or states.

In the course of the labor, problems can occur in accomplishing the intent of the technique. Problem-solving becomes the origin of experimentation to derive an acceptable manipulation. The discovered solution can involve new and/or modified techniques; also, the outcomes that are deemed acceptable can be unprecedented. In other words, the actual thing that becomes accepted is the relationship determined between what is done and what results. This decision -- the relationship -- is an element of the ultimate constructed object and, in art, is more important than the material per se. It is what is identified as composition. And where the composition proceeds from the new solutions, the problem-solving is identified as invention.

The labor and invention of art work always occurs in a context. A context is not inherently artistic or non-artistic. One obvious proof of that is that in art both labor and invention may be appropriated from some other domain having no necessary bearing on the current effort of the artist. Instead, in art the idea "behind" the work is to make a presentation of effects, with the intent to influence the way that experience is interpreted. Presentation in art is essentially rhetorical in intent, whether it is circumstantially effective or not. The presentation is the primary context of the art work. Without the rhetoric achieved by the presentation, the work in art would still be understandable as research and development (such as with invention); but the value of the delivered work is defined elsewhere -- by the context. Put bluntly, the purpose of art is to influence: to suggest a perspective, and provide a point of view on experience. This influence, which is a crafting of experience, is where most people begin to receive and/or attach their notions of style, content, and intention. Loosely speaking, the receiving and attaching modes parallel the presentation's being taken as philosophical or celebratory, respectively. This will be true regardless of what kind of experience is under the pressure of the influence; it is why subject treatment always trumps subject matter; and why subject matter cannot define art. But in the work of art, where presentation delivers the treatment, we will find an ontology and taxonomy indicated by its "composition" and proposed by its presentation, and those ways of distinguishing things -- as critics are likely to point out -- will be the main ingredients of "meaning" that are offered -- thus also of "value" (by definition: the significance of the difference).

Finally, with influence coded into the work, the art includes a decision about how to provide for the interaction with the viewer, reader, audience or whatever. This aspect -- which is design -- focuses on the characteristics that signal the audience to engage the work. Presentation gives a persistent shape to the idea of the work, but design shapes the experiencing of the idea. Because of design, audience predispositions are incorporated into art work without compromising the independence of the idea. Design uses the predispositions to amplify the work's influence. This design is typically described as the impact the work has on the audience, but it is actually the relationship that the work supports with the audience, made of emotional, intellectual, and other components.

An important concept covering all of the above is that the four different aspects of the construction effort are free to influence each other at almost all times. One may anticipate the other, or issue direction or limits to the other. Meanwhile, each of them may be independently and variably aggressive in conforming to any prior expectations and examples, or departing from them.  

Equally important, an architecture provides both a guide for construction and a framework for critiquing the results. Criticism is essentially analytical, not responsible for the production of art but commited to the investigation of how art "coheres" to become effective. In so doing, criticism commonly applies notions of importance, style, form and method -- traversing the same domains of the architecture (design, influence, invention and labor, respectively). However, it is common in criticism to propose a theory of coherence, and the formulation of that theory is based on predispositions that can affect with equal ease the formula's discovery or its synthesis. This is significant because of the possibility that the critic's observation promotes a value system originating outside of the art's work.

The autonomy of the critic is neither necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, but it is necessary to call it out. Whereas, both preceding criticism and without it, the work in the art process comprises a value system of its own -- one that is applied to ideas and objects in order to position them as "expressions" of how senses design sensibilities for being communicated over time or across different perspectives.

To accomplish that, in making art, it is essential that labor, invention, influence and design are exercised; it is circumstantial that these correspond or not to critical notions of method, form, style and importance.  The artist building the house inhabits it during building; the critic visits that house and others. Art makers always have the option of responding to additional differing stakeholders as well, including: consumers who desire or even commission work; reviewers who suggest and evaluate usages; or even historians who situate work in social and cultural contexts. The message of this discussion's description of work is that these various special interests do not change the basic distinguishing characteristics of work in art.