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The fragmented relation between art and communication
  • Feb 4, 2021
  • 4 minutes

The fragmented relation between art and communication

Art and communication are becoming more and more connected: art appears as communication, communication as art. After the communication paradigm's triumphant advance, can there still be a form of artistic expression that defies its power of definition?

Since Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp at the very latest, we have known that it often no longer seems to matter what we express, but how we present it. - All products are becoming more and more similar, and the advertising for each of them is becoming more and more perfectionist - from cars to personalities, it seems.

While that was still exciting in the sixties, today it forms the natural working basis of every gallery owner, every art entrepreneur and every graduate of the courses from art management to communication design springing up everywhere.

At first glance, this appears to be a shift in emphasis in favor of one of the two theoretical poles through which communication is to be understood here: As a unit of transporting form - the symbol - and transported content - meaning. All modern communication theories are based on this basic model.

They deal with the relationships between the resulting four components: producer, form, content, and consumer, described as form-content dynamics. This model is so self-evident that it is often overlooked that it is a relatively new idea. This model's internal characteristics should not be discussed, what a meta-communication theory would be, but that it is preparing to enclose the totality of our relation to reality.

To that extent, it fulfills the criteria of a paradigm in the Kuhnian sense. The totality of relation to reality means the form in which we understand consciousness and which we base every perception and every cognitive act as an essential interpretative element.

It can be called communicative, since as the primary criterion of reality it understands the totality of possible communication of a thing - or in short: a thing is what it can tell us about itself or what we understand about it. Even better: everything that exists in the space of possibilities has to use forms of expression and content. However, since the distinction between form and content is always a question of definition, i.e. depends on recognition.

This is very condensed and expanded concept of communication, which is to be explained in the following based on two of its perhaps most important consequences: 1) the apparent loss of a non-systemic transcendence, i.e. of 'things' whose expression space does not directly intersect with the space of our coded form-content dynamics having; 2) The accompanying redefinition of subjectivity as a point of reference for the form-content dynamics of communication, which seems to be the decisive point of the whole postmodern subjectivity debate - as definitions do not have any intrinsic necessity of any form of coherence.

Insofar as the non-systemic transcendence in point 1 forms the traditional object of art (or religion), the discussion will move along the understanding of art as communication to conclude with its consciousness-theoretical implications.

The fundamental question is whether, after the communication paradigm's triumph, there is still a meaningfully specifiable, artistic expression that can evade its power of definition. - Or is Warhol right, and thinking about communication has robbed the term 'expression' of meaning outside of communication models? Is artistic expression more than a space of expression protected by definition.

“For a long time, the work of a painter, writer or musician was not thought of in terms of communication. Under the aegis of genius’ art, artistic creativity exploded into a space of abstraction of the 'sublime' or 'divine', which was located in the inner being of the artist himself. Therefore, the creative act was seen as both an explosion and an implosion: it exploded into the artist's determination of essence, which was equated with that of the (divine) cosmos,” shares Tysen Knight, an African-American pop urban artist with a keen interest in street art, depicting the teachings of Buddha in the aesthetics of pop art.

Speaking to us, Knight shares: “the artist came into contact with an extra-everyday reality that was always viewed as a form of a sacred sphere. Therefore, artistic creativity always had the aftertaste of solipsism, which found itself in the remote. The lost expression of the poet princes of Schiller or Goethe monuments shows so typically. The paradigm itself goes far beyond the romantic aesthetic of genius. It is the basis of all sacred art and the self-image of Impressionist painters or humanist writers, for example. The exile of the sacred from the sphere of artistic experience did nothing to change its status as an actual reality. The artists did not communicate with their recipients. They went ahead with them. Their genius was to have found a way of implosion into an entity in which the recipient of their works of art could participate, be taken by the pull of expression into the sublime, but not participate.”

Of course, there was also communication in the art of genius, or at least today we cannot help but recognize one, but it was no more than the necessary but insignificant appendage of the 'real'. Up until the 20th century, artistic creativity was understandable in the context of the cave metaphor's Platonic allegory.

Today, however, the signs seem reversed, and the artist shows himself to be a virtuoso of communication, whose artistic achievement is based on meta-communicative creativity. He may provoke, alienate or disturb, exaggerate or ridicule, work in a visionary or dystopian way, and the vector of his creative explosion is always directed at the recipient.

The ancient Egyptian empire began the tradition of what may be called 'art' today with the incredibly laborious chiseling of granite statues, which were then often walled up in door less chambers, an act that, from a modern point of view, apostrophizes nothing other than the epitome of senselessness can be.  Not least because today we seem to have almost reached the opposite pole. Art that no one receives seems pointless today, not even real. 

For us, every expression needs a complementary impression to make sense. In this way, it becomes a fundamental dialogue enclosed by the paradigm of communication, which gains ontological quality by redefining meaning and existence as coded perceptibility: what is real is what information carries.

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