What’s in it for the audience?
Following on from my last blog on the psychological pay-back to the artist in the creation of works (Why do artists art?‘), some notes now on what the audience gets from experiencing art.
Freud talked of the creative process being akin to child’s play and for Sarason the drive to create does not end with latent period of childhood for the person in the audience; the motivation to view art is a creative practice in itself; so the ‘art experience’ is a moment of personal expression, the liking or disliking of art is a revealing ‘affective response’.
As audience we seek this affective response out. At a neurological level we experience pleasure when experiencing art and it engages both left and right brain hemispheres which concords with Arnheim’s assertion that we experience art emotionally via intuition and intellectually via reason. In being in an audience we are joining a social relationship with the artist and artwork as Segal states; in viewing art, the audience participates in its creation just as much as the art has the potential to change the person; the art experience is a sublimated expression of suppressed desire of interest in the collective – we go to view art to ask ‘what does the artist think of life?’ to help our own quest.
Benson terms this the ‘surrender and reflection’ of the art experience. Satre saw it as a ‘quasi-observation’ of invoking infinite possibilities. Either way, this experience generates subconscious affects which are more intense than the conscious ones; the artwork can perform this complex task as it plays the same role for the audience as it does for the artist with the potential of challenge and the satisfaction of desires. If we think of transference as the unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another, we might see there is a moment of transference in the art experience ; thus the art experience becomes a therapy for the audience, a means of moving a conflict with the subconscious without lapsing into neurosis; thus again the art experience is a personal creative, cathartic act of overcoming one’s own opposing feelings.
But we also have our own personal psychographic relationship with the art experience. To a certain extent, at the point of exhibition, artist’s motivation and message is irrelevant as art is now in the public and open to myriad interpretation. We bring ourselves, our lived experience to the art experience…
But in this, we have to remember that not everyone seeks out the art experience. The art experience is an ambivalent one; we can seek it out or we can actively avoid it as it could be confrontational or painful. There is a recognised audience resistance to going to designated art spaces and I think this is because they are spaces perceived to be contingent, a ‘special’ space where change could happen…and as the artists blog states, this change is not something we necessarily want.
An amended version of this post, which also poses questions to the arts sector on how it might work with such knowledge and learning, appears on ArtsProfessional.