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"The Spectator Makes The Picture"

Clairity's picture

     When I was reading Flanagan's Critical Play, a quote from French-American artist, Marcel Duchamp, immediately caught my attention. "The spectator makes the picture (Critical Play, Page 10)." This is exactly how I felt as for my recent trips to the city of Philadelphia.

     In my very first trip along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, I had a variety of "spectator experiences" with my classmates. At the Museum of Art, we saw a group of men racing to the top of the stairs, whilst their lady friends were cheering at the finish line. Their playful activity made a real-life art. Witnessing the process of their play of art, some audience outside the museum dismissed their play and found no value in their race, but I enjoyed watching them running on the stairs. It's such a special moment for me to see adults play freely regardless of other people's thoughts. But my idea could be largely different with my friends' opinions. This explains what Duchamp's meant in his words.

     Spectators all have their own interpretations regarding to every piece of art. Some might agree with the artist's ideas. Others may envision a completely fresh sense. They can even add new meanings and new aspects to it, creating their unique version through this original piece.

     When we got off the train at Market East Station in our last trip, we noticed the huge mosaic on the wall and started to take photos of these colorful tiles. It never occurred to me to think about what the mosaic was about or what it wanted to tell people. My position was too close for me to see the whole picture. I thought the mosaic is made by putting colored tiles of uniform size on the wall and arranging them in the order of color tones just to create an artistic effect. However, I found out later that for someone who stood on the further side of the platform, it was very likely for him or her to recognize the design consisting of multifarious layers of trees, or even find a different image.

     This phenomenon reminds me of one example that Flanagan gave in Chapter five (Page 173).  John Cage, a famous composer, and American pianist David Tudor played an interesting game at Tudor's premiere performance of 4'33'', which lasted for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Tudor didn't play the piano when the music began, but instead he closed the keyboard lid for three times to indicate the "silent" movements in this piece. "The work asks the audience to listen, transforming the listening experience to one in which listeners actively create their own composition through the live sounds and noises around them," "This work", "involves chance operations and redirects the authority of the creative process to the participant," Flanagan wrote. Their performance allowed the audience to create a piece of music of their own. The performer was no longer the subject, but actually were those spectators who integrate their opinions into this work, thus composing pieces of music that belonged to themselves.

     Cage's idea was embraced by many Fluxus artists. "I want it [the art] to be available for somebody to do something else with it... [something] that I wouldn't have thought of," states Alison Knowles. This is where spectators come to mind. They actively engaged in the art and bestow a new interpretation for it.

     The same thing happened in the Magic Garden. To the children, it was an interesting "treasure hunt" game in the garden. It was about finding a cat, a turtle or other cool things. The garden was also a romantic place for couples and lovers. Isaiah painted on the tiles, "Julia and Isaiah decide to get remarried." This is where love started. We found a note in a glass bottle saying, "9/19/13-Yes, thankfully as he proposed to me today, I said yes." "Who knows who will read this. But I love the man I'm here with." "Me too, thanks," someone replied. Visitors became a part of the art, turning this place into a garden of love stories. They switched from viewers to performers.

     "Finally, as a form of critical play, performance elevates the role of the player and the aura of artworks shifts to the public." Flanagan writes in the end of Chapter Five. In front of an artwork, spectators become active participants in the creation with the artist. They view the work through their own eyes. They create their own art with different interpretations. They connect relationships that artists haven't realized. They sometimes even become a part of the piece.

     The spectator is a co-creator with the artist. "The spectator makes the picture."


pbernal's picture

Walking in her own Moccasins

Claire connects her experience of Philadelphia to the individual experience one might have with their own adventures or art. She believes one walks in their own moccasins and can only express their thoughts and beliefs through their own words because she can't speak for others. We could have ideas of what Isaih's work means and why he created but ultimately, those are our ideas not his and in the end it's not that our ideas and thoughts don't matter it's just we are all responsible of our own thoughts.

Muni's picture

The eye of the beholder

In her essay, Claire relates her trip to the Magic Gardens to Flanagan's writing about how art can be interpreted differently, depending on who is doing the interpreting. She contrasts different experiences she observed in the Magic Gardens to show that the art can be meaningful in different ways to people who are looking for different things. The children experienced a treasure hunt, but many adults saw love and romance in the same moasics. It seems as though Claire herself saw the interaction between the people and the art.