Monday, July 26, 2004

Panofsky's take on my rant

From what I'm reading lately, Meaning in the Visual Arts by Erwin Panofsky (1939), a book recommended by the art professor who wrote the snobby essay:

"The "naive" beholder not only enjoys but also, unconsciously, appraises and interprets the work of art; and no one can blame him [sic etc.] if he does this without caring whether his appraisal and interpretation are right or wrong, and without realizing that his own cultural equipment, such as it is, actually contributes to the object of his experience.

The "naive" beholder differs from the art historian in that the latter is conscious of the situation. [S]He knows that this cultural equipment, such as it is, would not be in harmony with that of people in another land and of a different period. He tries, therefore, to make adjustments by learning as much as he possibly can of the circumstances under which the object of his studies were created. [...] And he will do his best to familiarize himself with the social, religious and philosophical attitudes of other periods and countries, in order to correct his own subjective feeling for content. But when he does all this, his aesthetic perception as such will change accordingly, and will more and more adapt itself to the original "intention" of the works. [...]

As I have said before, no one can be blamed for enjoying works of art "naively" -- for appraising and interpreting them according to his lights and not caring any further. But the humanist will look with suspicion upon what might be called "appreciationism." He who teaches innocent people to understand art without bothering about classical languages, boresome historical methods and dusty old documents, deprives naivete of its charm without correcting its errors."

Hmm.  Okay, I get it.  Although obviously this applies to "foreign" works or to works from long ago (the past is a foreign country, after all), I wonder how responsibility of the "humanist" applies to current work.  I suppose it wouldn't necessarily be different -- in order to get a current piece, there is certainly all kinds of research you can do about it, although you may not have much to work with if the artist isn't well known or available to chat.  And considering the enormous amount of work that is out there, how do you decide which ones to focus upon, to research?  Doesn't that in the end depend on your initial "irrational" subjective response?  

Finally, many folks who have looked on my work have seen something completely different from my "original intention."  When they share this with me and we compare notes, I find myself learning something new about my work and about the person.  I wouldn't say they were "wrong" about my work.  If anything, their interpretation adds to mine.   But I'm one of those goofy subjectivist types probably. 

I'll keep pondering this one.  

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