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The "Participants" Make the Picture

Clairity's picture

    Before this trip, I thought it was the spectator that made the picture. But yesterday's experience helped me realize that it was not that simple. It is not only the audience makes the picture, but also the performer, the creator and the artwork. These elements together make the "participants", who are actively engaged in the art or playful activities and jointly infuse dynamics and diversity into the work. The art is not complete without either the artist or spectators. A work engenders its true meanings with its participants.

    This point was perfectly illustrated in my trip this weekend. On our way back, we ran into a piece of mosaic by Isaiah Zagar in an area that was not fairly close to the Magic Garden. Even if we were rushing for the train, we still stopped there for a while to take a clearer look. Located at the entrance inside an art school, the mosaic was still a shining piece for all of us. Because we had participated in Isaiah's artwork, had tried to find the beauty in every corner of his Magic Garden, and had quietly had a wonderful "conversation" with him through the shimmering art pieces. We were amazed at coming across his mosaic, but the women who sit outside the entrance looked at us strangely and wondered why seeing a colored wall made us so happy. Those women were merely spectators, unlike us. We engaged in Isaiah's work, therefore we were able to fully appreciate this amazing serendipity and understand the importance of this piece.

    However, it was a different case when we went into a used book store, The Book Trader. The huge amounts of books that were stacked on the ten-foot tall bookshelves overwhelmed us. Walking in the extremely narrow corridor between the bookshelves, we were dumbfounded by the diversity and quantities of the books. On the second floor, I found some people quite excited in their "treasure hunt". There were also a few of others sit quietly, completely indulged in their own reading. Their movements added liveliness to this kingdom of books. And I, as an observer, enjoyed watching them actively "performing". These two groups of people are true participants, making this place an art for us spectators.

    This point was introduced by Flanagan in her book Critical Play. She mentioned that Allan Kaprow, an Fluxus artist, involved "participants" rather than merely "spectators" in his performance art 18 Happenings in Six Parts. "Happenings", another title for performance art in New York, were planned but unscripted, unrepeatable and unique events that were performed by non-actors who had no intention to make the events theatrical. Actively engaged participants rather than passively observers were his goal in this project. He often insisted that there should be no spectators in his performance and that only active participants should be part of a "Happening". "Happening" emphasized the significance of active participation, which corresponded with my point of view here.

    This could be explained in my experience in the Franklin Fountain, a unique ice cream store. Workers in the store all dressed up in costumes of the old times. And the decoration and rules here were also ancient and charming. Menus were carved into the wood wall and the store only accepted cash. Entering another world, we embraced this fascinating little piece of art as we walked in the narrow space, trying to get our ice cream. Every day, different, unrepeatable events happen here. They welcome all kinds of customers who appreciate their art performances. But their art has meanings only if people came to participate and have conversation with them. Their art only makes sense with the admirers.

    The artist, the performers and the audience working together create a better version of the art. An art won't be an art without any of these elements. Spectators are not the only co-creator with the artist. It's the "participants" that make the picture.


Everglade's picture

Clarity plays with the

Clarity plays with the people. She defines two kinds of people viewing an artpiece, the spectators and the participants. The new notion evokes people to question themselves and their behavior facing art. I examine my art experience: was I really into it? How was the interaction between me and the art? Did I notice other people around me and how were they reacting to the art and to me? She raises an interesting topic that I will keep in mind as a criteria for my actions later.

nightowl's picture


In this paragraph Clairity is describing whom the participants are in art, saying that it is the artist and the viewer both participate. I had to read it slowly and think about what she was saying, but once I understood the idea I was intrigued. Clarity explained an idea and I worked to understand it based on my previous experiences looking at art in museums. She plays with definitions in this paragraph and in response I play with them too.