Art Without Compromise" by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 5: "The Medium Controls the Message"
section 2: "Concentrating on Context"
The weekend is over, the Oscars were fun, and I'm back on task reviewing Richmond's book. This section of Chapter 5 begins with the recognition of artists' desire to exhibit what we've created for others to view and appreciate. She also recognizes that artists can't control the meanings assigned by others to our work. And, in this age of innovative ways to reproduce our work, we artists have a hand in changing how our work is perceived. Richmond writes: each iteration moves a little farther away from you and a little bit deeper into a new context, and therefore, a new meaning.
Wendy's central point here is that an artwork's context can cause a change in perception and meaning. Context may be subtle, sometimes even invisible, but it is never neutral. That is, although I (the artist) know the meaning (content) of my work when I create it, once it leaves my hands and is displayed in a new environment, or once it's reproduced in a different form (context), the work can be perceived differently by others and the meaning can change.
I couldn't think of a better example of Richmond's point than The Scream by Edvard Munch:
The Scream by Munch
Here's Munch's statement about the content of this painting: I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature. He later added: for several years I was almost mad…You know my picture, ‘’The Scream?’’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.
And, here's how we've changed Much's intended content:The Simpsons cartoon, funny poster, doll:
Tote, mug, travel mug:
Clothing, tee shirt, tie, and thong (!):
I think that Richmond makes an important point in this section of her book, and would like to add a question. First, I'll add that this question considers the activities of the makers of fine art rather than commercial art. Although Munch did not endorse the many forms his painting has taken, nor did he live long enough to see the appropriation of The Scream in this way, many artists today are making the decision to reproduce their art in the form of greeting cards, ceramic tiles, and posters as well as some of the products shown above. I'll assume that this is done mostly for the purpose of bringing attention to their work and making more money. If that's true, does this mean that this type of artist subordinates the content of their work to its commercial value? And, if so, does that turn the artist into a commercial artist, or is that boundary fuzzy anyway?