Letter S – To see or not to see.


What is the relationship between (mass) media and art in the past and present, and what are the possible future scenarios? By Clare Gosling

A second theorist, David Natharius, proposes two main axioms regarding visual communication: the first, ‘the more we know the more we see’, implies that we can multiply the meanings we can make from our visual impressions. The second, ‘what is not seen is as important as what is seen’, proposes that we should always ask what television, magazines and newspapers are not showing us, and how they have altered the images they are showing us. According to this, since we mistakenly believe that visual perception is the most accurate of our senses, we forget that we have been taught to ‘see’ – as we have been taught to read and write – and that ‘we do not know what we are seeing until we have learned what it is we are seeing’ (Natharius 2004:242). (Book: Alfredo Cramerotti, 2009, Aesthetic Journalism – How to inform without informing, Intellect: Bristol, UK, Chicago, USA Page 71-72)

I will use the quote above to talk about the relationship between art and the mass media in the past, present and future. In the past the viewer saw art simultaneously alongside an understanding of the facts that they were given by the mass media about the piece of art. The Mona Lisa is a good example of how the viewer saw a painting with the information published in the mass media. I would argue that the viewer in the past read paintings in the following way ‘we do not know what we are seeing until we have learned what we are seeing’ (Natharius 2004:242).

In the present I feel that the curators and the audience look at art in the following way ‘what is not seen is as important as what is seen’ (Natharius 2004:242). There have been several exhibitions recently where it seems the exhibition does not want to leave out any of the ‘not seen’ details that relate to the artist. As if the curator wants to expose all the previously unseen information about the artist so that the viewer can ‘see’ the work in a new light. The Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy aimed to show information about the artist that had ‘never been seen’ before. This is a good example of how what is not seen becomes as important as what can be seen. The mysterious questions which the viewer cannot see such as ‘why did he paint that in this way’ becomes as important as the painting that the viewer can actually see.

In the future I would argue that increasingly the viewer will see art in the following way ‘the more we know the more we see’ (Natharius 2004:242). As there becomes more and more ways of ‘seeing’ images and art, and as the number of ways of communication through new technologies becomes possible the viewer will draw an increasing amount of meaning from art. The way the viewer will draw an understanding from art will multiply becoming increasingly more complicated. A piece of art that starts out at an exhibition, is then discussed on TV, which is then used as a metaphor in an advert, which becomes so popular it is put on the radio, and on the internet. This is then mentioned on blogs and social networking sites. Later part of the multilayered image is then dropped onto the front of an e-card, which is emailed to friends all over the world, and as a result becomes part of popular culture. Because it is so widespread it is mentioned in a play and in the lyrics of a hit number one album. The artist that made the original painting then buys this album, and this album is mentioned in a talk given at another exhibition in which the original painting is displayed. The mass media does not change the original piece of art that the artist created – this remains the same. Through time, the only difference real change is that the paint may look older as the years go by. However in the future as mass media platforms multiply, the viewer will see art alongside all the pages of detailed information, hundreds of mentioned viewpoints, which adds many complicated layers of meaning around pieces of art. So it will become very difficult to for the viewer to see the piece of art in the pure form in which it was created. By Clare Gosling


About Clareg

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