»Caminante no hay camino
se hace camino al andar«
As professionals in their fields artists are deeply involved
in creating (what they want to express), in choosing (from the
moulds of experience and context), in shaping (the material they
have chosen to work with), in moulding the non-yet-existing,
the unique, the unrepeatable product, their work of art.
But artist also wake and sleep, eat and breathe, love and
hate, have friends from different quarters, go out, discuss taking
stands on all sorts of issues, are invited to participate in
this or that, travel, in short, they are also people as everbody
Our theme >Artists facing society<, therefore, involves
the artists' professional worlds and lives as well as their other
worlds and lives. It challenges us to direct our attention, on
the one hand, on how artists, their products, and their actions
influence people and society at large and, on the other hand,
on how they themselves are, in turn, influenced by what exists,
by what is enacted, and by what happens within their ranges around
them. Our theme, therefore, implies a focus on relations and
on their effects.
Approaching as an outsider
Whenever I participate in discussions as an outsider - not
being an artist myself - I do not like to come with a preconceived
structure of thinking cast in a prepared paper. Rather, I try
to open up to the thoughts insiders express and to the ways in
which you - as the artists - structure your worlds in your discourse.
Only then do I try and develop my thoughts in relation to impressions
I had when listening. It is my way of trying to prevent monologue,
to come a bit closer to your worlds, and - hopefully - to contribute
to and participate in dialogue. - Should I fail in that effort,
I ask your indulgence.
ON RELATIONS BETWEEN ARTISTS AND THEIR PUBLIC
What struck me
During our deliberations references were made - both implicitly
and explicitly - to relations between artists and society. Society
was overwhelmingly seen as the public of works of art, i.e. as
the public of artists in their capacity as artists. I shall,
therefore, also concentrate on those aspects of our theme.
A notion transpired in these discussions that a direct
relation between artists and the readers or viewers of their
works existed. This notion - while remaining implicit most of
the time - was dominant. It had the strength of the obvious,
the self-evident, the unquestioned.
But my reaction was a feeling of uneasiness, of dissonance.
Thus, I shall try to develop my thoughts by focussing on these
relations.1 Let us, therefore, look both
at this assumption and at what we find in the real world.
A direct relation via the work of art ?
What is this assumption? Since it is not my assumption I try
to reconstruct it.
It seems to me that what is at the core of this assumption
is that there is an uninterrupted flow of something through an
uninterrupted connection between the artists and their public.
What is connected is the artist and any member of her/his public,
where the relationship is supposed to be mediated by the artist's
A metaphor that would fit that assumption is a bridge carrying
a(n) - uninterrupted - road or pipe with a pillar in the middle,
a pillar that is needed because the river is to wide to be crossed
At issue is the notion that this is one uninterrupted relationship.
This is the assumption I want to challenge.
What relations do exist
What I can see when approaching the subject from afar are
two separate relationships:
a) a relation between the creator and the created, between
the artist and his product, and
b) a relation between the reader or the beholder of a work of
art and that work of art.
If someone looks at a picture or reads a poem or book, the
artist is not there (let alone his intention). As a consequence
one cannot establish a relation to her or him. One cannot see
her or talk to him. The relation established is a relation with
the book, the poem or the picture.
However much I search, I can find nothing that would make
one relation out of the two. Thus, these two relationships are
strictly independent of each other.2
Beauty, in the eyes of the beholder, is not contingent on
Thus, my first conclusion is that there is no direct relation
between the artist, the creator of a work of art, and people
who are actively or passively exposed to their products that
is established merely by getting acquainted with the work of
Whatever relations exist between artists and their public
are established otherwise.
What makes us believe in a direct relation mediated by
the work of art ?
At this point it may be useful to ask ourselves why - despite
the rather trivial observations4
just made - the assumption that I am discussing appears to
I suggest that what makes us believe in such a direct relation
is that both artists and their public prefer a more encompassing
relationship. Intentions as well as behaviour on both sides aim
at establishing a wider, more complex, relationship.
That viewers often want to know more about the artist and
her/his work becomes immediately clear when, for example, they
leave the normal distance of viewing a picture and almost creep
into the wall in order to be able to read the title of a picture,
or when listeners to a piece of music start the group game of
guessing who the composer was, or when readers search for and
read the >about the author< on the jacket of a book, etc.
Turning to the artist's side, consider the following example.
As participants in this meeting we have all had the priviledge
of seeing an exhibition of photos by one of our fellow participants,
Jiri Hanak, in Kloostri Ait which is part of the Art Centre Hereditas
(which, by the way, is a very good example of the enormous efforts
undertaken in Estonia to safeguard the national cultural heritage
- often stimulated by or with an intensive involvement of the
Estonian National Commission for Unesco). What we saw was a very
interesting and impressive collection. You will recall the separate
frame informing the viewers about the artist. It contained a
photograph of the artist and excerpts from his curriculum.
The information >about the artist< whether on the jacket
of the book or in a separate frame of the exhibition are cases
that fall into the category >information (by) other (means)
than the work of art itself<. That artists, publishers, or
organizers usually present and viewers or readers usually look
for such information seems to confirm my assertion of a quest
for a more encompassing relationship on both sides.
By interweaving such information, i.e. information by other
means than the work of art itself, with the information we capture
when exposed to the artist's product in the process of recreating
what the work of art is to us, we create the felt-like fabric
that leads us to assume that a direct relation exists.
Information about the artists comes in many ways
Let me now pick out a few among the many different ways in
which indirect relations between the public and artists are established.
The photo exhibition just mentioned was staged at a tavern,
a place where people go to meet friends, to have a cup of coffee
or a beer, i.e. for other reasons than to look at an exhibition.
In looking at the photos of the landscapes they may have had
no prior information about an exhibition taking place or about
Take the other case where people go to see an exhibition staged
at a place where it stands alone. They have - as a minimum -
heard or read that such an exhibition was on show, they may also
have read something about the exhibition or about the artist
(whether or not they had seen some of his works on earlier occasions).
Before they go there they have already built an indirect relation.
With this second example we have entered the largest group
of relations which consists of all those cases where a relationship
between an artist and members of their public is established
independently of the work of art itself.
A relation belonging to this group may be very indirect. It
may be established by reading something about the artist, by
hearing someone talk about the artist or about one or the other
of her or his works. It may be praise or rejection. But whatever
the valuation, each and every one of these processes establishes
some information about the artist or his work totally independently
of whether or not that person has had any exposure to any of
the artist's products.
The overwhelming number of relations thus established are
relations of some information to the artist as a name, to the
artist as a static picture (a photo, a cartoon), to the artist
as a moving two-dimensional picture (in a newsreel or on TV)
possibly accompanied by sound, and hardly any to the artist as
a living person acting in three-dimensional space and accessible
to impressions by the variety of our senses.
Finally, there is a group of experiences I would like to call
>interactive relations< which are based on person to person
relations, where one meets, shakes hands, discusses a variety
of matters which may or may not include discussing one or the
other of her/his works. Between artists and their public they
are - statistically speaking - extremely rare.
Thus, after analysis, I have to add two additional types of
relations between a member of the public and the artist
c) indirect relations based on a variety of information -
other than works of art - mediated by name or images of the artist,
d) interactive relations.
But these additional kinds of relations do not change the
conclusion that there is no direct relation between the artist
and their public via the work of art. Both of them fall into
the category of relations established by >information other
than the work of art itself<.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF WORKS OF ART
If one is saying that there is no direct relationship between
an artist and his public and if one assumes - based on experience
- that there is an influence of artists on society one has to
show how that influence works.
In confronting this issue I shall try and sketch how the components
of the wider relational web, the relations, and the wider web
itself develop and, thereby, try and show what such relations
Relations between works of art and their beholders/readers
- I think - do not differ fundamentally from relations established
by other experiences conveyed by the senses.
>influence it exerts<
In considering the influence of a work of art one must draw
a clear distinction between the influence a work of art exerts
and the influence it actually has.
The influence a work of art exerts is what actually reaches
us or, more precisely, what our senses are able to pick up.
>influence it actually has<
The influence a work of art actually has is what our non-conscious
and - in a much more limited way - our conscious mental processes
make of the stimulus configurations we were able to pick up by
transforming them and embedding the results. We see or read something
and interpret it - in an intertwining, interweaving, criss-crossing
process. Whatever we receive is (re-)formed, is (re-)shaped,
is moulded by us.
The process of re-creating the work of art in ourselves and
- later - the work of art as recreated by us constitute the influence
a work of art has. It is reception that matters.
What I am referring to here is the notion >seeing as<
discussed by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations,
a notion which refers to the fact that we see and interpret what
we see >uno actu<.5
Wittgenstein's example is seeing a triangle and interpreting
it in a number of ways. »Take as an example the aspects
of a triangle. This triangle can be seen as a triangular hole,
as a solid, as geometrical drawing; as standing on its base,
as hanging from its apex; as a mountain, as a wedge, as an arrow
or pointer, as an overturned object which is
meant to stand on the shorter side of the right angle, as a half
parallelogram, and as various other things.«6
And as much as there are processes that he called >seeing
as< there are also phenomena of >hearing as<, >smelling
as< and so forth. More generally, one can talk of a group
of phenomena one can label >taking as<.
In the verbal world and in the world of reasoning >taking
as< often takes the form of alleging that this (e.g.
the triangle) is really that (e.g. a mountain), a mode
of reasoning which amounts to substituting something by something
In the visual arts there is evidence of an additional mode
of >taking as<, a mode which I have chosen to label >seeing
how<. I am referring to phenomena, taking place in the earliest
phases of shaping our present visual worlds, that are additional
to - while being partly prior to and partly interwoven with -
the phenomena of >taking as<.
Since it is impossible to point directly to what goes on within
ourselves, let us take, as indirect examples, the styles of rendering
images employed by Georges Seurat and Georges Rouault. One moulds
one's world by seeing everything as minispots of colour or by
seeing everything as being framed by dark, heavy contours, or
by seeing it in any of a multitude of other ways.
Of course, one could call these phenomena >interpreting<
as well. However, I prefer to use a different word, since interpreting
something as a mountain leaves it wide open whether one sees
that mountain as made of minispots of colour or as framed by
CONSTITUTION OF ENSEMBLES
Let me try and explain in a very dense sketch and on the example
of the constitution of ensembles how I assume that the processes
of >taking as<, of >seeing how<, but also processes
of establishing relations to works of art and between artists
and their public develop when we are dealing with the world and
When we see a landscape or any other scene our eyes do not
move systematically across a landscape or picture; we do not
scan all the spots within the area in focus like a TV camera.
Our eyes jump from portion to portion (in jumps known as saccades).
That is what research on vision tells us. As Cézanne already
said »I see. In patches.«8
In jumping, our eyes follow the attraction of certain outstanding
features. In addition, they jump in very small steps (called
microsaccades) and oscillate with high frequency (known as tremor).
Also, our eyelids close regularly and the retina has a blind
Yet, despite all this - interruptions, lacunae and jumping
around - what we get is images of uninterrupted scenes. It follows
that a landscape or other scene is constituted in our minds neither
in the way nor in the sequence in which our eyes move when we
look at it. The order(ing) is not that of the sequence followed.
Likewise, when we read a poem or a novel - usually sequentially
built since they are created in the medium of language - we constitute
impressions of static or moving scenes, of people, of emotions.
Here, as in the case of a landscape, the order of those scenes
created in a reader's mind is not that of the sequence of the
Physical time - perceptual time
The way our cultures have hammered out our dealing with sequences
one can - No! One must! - say that there is physical time which
orders all aspects of life.
But what I just said about the constitution of visual images
and the understanding of verbal or written text shows that perception
does not behave like that, it does not follow that construct.
Thus, the question arises, whether our usual interpretation of
sequences in real physical time, which we construe as a gradient,
a graded sequence divided into seconds, minutes, and hours, which
are necessarily of equal duration and which necessarily follow
each other, is as all embracing, as universal, a fact as we use
The lesson I draw from those facts is that we have to accept
that there is not just one real time.
Let us, therefore, see whether there is any scientific evidence
that supports such a statement.
There is one well established phenomenon, called >apparent
motion<, that points in this direction. Let me quote the description
given by Nelson Goodman:
»The simplest and best-known phenomenon of apparent
motion occurs when a spot against a contrasting background is
exposed very briefly, followed after an interval of from 10 to
45 milliseconds by exposure of a like spot a short distance away.
With a shorter time interval at the same distance, we see two
spots as flashed simultaneously; with a longer interval we see
the two spots flashed successively; but within the specified
time-interval, we see one spot moving from the first position
to the second.«9
In what we perceive the ordering is changed in relation to
- what is conventionally considered as - real time. The sequence
>first flash - second flash< is changed into the sequence
>first flash - movement of the spot - second flash<, i.e.
our reaction, which could start only after the second flash was
registered, moves from following the second flash to preceding
It shows that perceptual time is not a gradient on which events
necessarily follow each other as they do in physical time. Given
that perceiving is the only way in which we can get a picture
of the world both physical time and perceptual time are real
What we call >the present< is not a point in time
The next issue that must be introduced concerns our conception
of >the present<. The present is not a point in time. It
is a period in process.
Let us listen to what Auguste Rodin has to say on that issue
in relation to movement in art, where he compares photography
with other visual arts: After it was made clear that photographs
of walking figures »never seem to advance« and »seem
to rest motionless on one leg or to hop on one foot« Rodin
says »it is the artist who is truthful and it is photography
which lies, for in reality time does not stop, and if the the
artist succeeds in producing the impression of movement
which takes several moments for accomplishment, his work is certainly
much less conventional than the scientific image, where time
is abruptly suspended.«10
All experience, sensual or thinking, and - more generally
- all life is sequence, is process, is motion.
Yet, much of our thinking is in terms of steady states, of
scenes interpretated as unchanging, of processes interpreted
as object-like. The artificial and abrupt suspension of time
that Rodin rejects is the same way of thinking that Norbert Elias
systematically criticizes when confronted with aspects of life
reduced to steady states, a type of reduction abounding in scientific
The notion of the present as a point in time is tantamount
to such an artificial suspension of time.
In what amounts, inter alia, to linking the jumping of our
eyes with the rejection of any reduction of the richness of life
to some one and only real, a young and influential art critic,
Maurice Raynal, commented in 1912: »The futurist painters
.. have tried, in their pictures, to render the real movement
of various objects; however, the perception of a real movement
presupposes that we know some fixed point in space which will
serve as a point of reference for all other
movements. But this point does not exist. The movement which
the futurists have perceived is therefore only relative to our
senses and is in no way absolute.«12
Not only is the individual not the point zero of his own system
of coordinates13, there is no such system
of coordinates in human perception that is reducible to a steady
Rodin on >movement in the motionless<
Rodin's answer when asked how sculptures of human beings »so
evidently motionless can yet appear to act«, namely, »Note,
first, that movement is the transition from one attitude to another«14
says, inter alia, exactly that.
He then explains what one could see as the opposite of reduction
of processes to steady states, i.e. the embodiment of movement
in a motionless sculpture:
»The sculptor compels, so to speak, the spectator to
follow the development of an act in an individual .. the eyes
are forced to travel .. and, in so doing, they
find the different parts of the figure represented at successive
instants, they have the illusion of beholding the movement performed.«15
Rodin takes the argument even further:
»You see, then, that an artist can, when he pleases,
represent not only fleeting gestures, but a long action, to employ
a term of dramatic art. In order to succeed, he needs only to
place his personages in such a manner that the spectator shall
first see those who begin this action, then those who continue
it, and finally those who complete it.«16
That Rodin became one of the greates sculptors in the history
of mankind is very much due to these insights and their successful
application in his work.
The >short durée<
Let me try and summarize this overly dense argument.
The ways in which ensembles - landscapes, scenes, impressions
communicated by novels or poems - are constituted in our brain
differ importantly from received knowledge.
Their constitution becomes possible because our present is
not a point in time, but a period.
This period, which I call >the short durée< is
the period during which activated processes in our brain continue
to be at work or are still accessible. In human information processing
this period is said to last approximately three seconds.17
During three seconds there are usually somewhere between 10
and 20 rapid displacements of our eyes.18
The respective incoming clusters of visual information and the
traces of earlier experiences activated by them are, thus, available
During the short durée the constitution of ensembles
is carried out by the processes in our brain that are or continue
to remain activated. The ordering is based on fit and overlap
as well as on information about the jumping of our eyes and about
other ways we dealt with what was activated (the latter giving
us the information where fit and overlap should be sought). Events
that follow each other in real (physical) time can - and often
do - appear in different sequence and in different order in the
ensembles thus constituted.
What are these relations ?
All along I have been talking of relations among artists and
their public as if it were clear what such relations are. The
way I used the expression >relations< was the way in which
we generally use most so-called abstract notions.
We treat such notions as if they were given as objects, as
unearthly, ethereal objects. We deal with such notions assuming
counterparts in real life, assuming that they refer to something,
but we do not care to specify or even circumscribe what we believe
these counterparts to be.
I suggest it would be too easy to side-step that issue. We
have to confront the question what these relations are, where
we find what we have labelled >relations<.
Relations exist in minds of individuals
Relations of public to artists are similar to relations to
other public figures, i.e. the relations are non-personal. The
presence to which one relates is - in most cases - an indirect
presence, which does not imply co-presence of the public figure
and the member of the public in the same physical space. Such
relations have their existence in the minds of individuals. As
a consequence they may be involved in the behaviour of the individuals
The pivotal link is often the name
When talking earlier about the various types of relations
of viewers or readers to artists
I mentioned one relation that gets established in the overwhelming
number of cases, a relation that is mediated by the name of the
artist. The name often plays a pivotal role, since it is with
the help of the name that we keep together whatever information
we get about an artist. Thus, a work seen or read is most often
linked to the name; when one hears about an exhibition one hears
the name; when art is discussed reference is made to the artists
with their names; and so forth.
Relations are ensembles
Relations between artists and their public as well as relations
of viewers or readers to a work of art are constituted as ensembles.
They are within ourselves.
Ensembles are built by adding trace to trace
Such ensembles develop by cumulative addition20
of newly received information onto already existing traces
of earlier experiences. If present in our conscious mind they
are activated traces of memory in interaction with the ongoing
processing of incoming stimuli.
An example. We stand together and someone says: »Look!
Over there, that is Doris Kareva!« - By the mere mentioning
of her name a gamut of traces of memory are activated in the
And the reaction: »Ah! That's her!« is one of
the ways in which relations-to-a-name, relations-to-works-of-art,
and other such relations are getting newly interwoven with a
dimension hitherto non existing in the person speaking: relations-to-sequences-of-images-of-a-living-person
are added to and double up the links hitherto forged by the name.
Ensembles can be accessed via most of these traces
The points of access to these ensembles are manifold.
In the case of authors, they may be their name, a line in
a poem or book, the title of a novel or a figure developed therein,
a picture in a newspaper, the gist of the critique of the latest
In general, ensembles can be accessed via each and every one
of the traces that were established and connected in processes
of cumulative addition.
An ever developing fabric
These ensembles are portions among other portions of the ever
developing fabric of interrelated and interacting traces of processes
involved in shaping and organizing our sensual and thinking experience
in dealing with the world, with others, and with ourselves.
Relations between artists and members of their public - in
their making, unmaking and remaking - are part of that ever changing
fabric in their respective minds.
A different metaphor
A metaphor that would come closer to what I have tried to
describe is a small watercourse as one finds them in many a mountain
valley. Often there are many stones lying around. Some of them
stand out, are higher than the surface of the water. In crossing
such a brook one steps from stone to stone, using stones within
reach. By putting one foot on the first stone, the second on
the next, one reaches - step by step - the other side.
There was no bridge. Nothing continuous, nothing uninterrupted.
Only separate stones. Yet, by putting one foot before the other,
zigzagging or strait, by using what was available, one has reached
the other side.
Bridging needs no bridges.
Bridging takes place in trying
within our respective selves.
© Arne Haselbach 1995
Arne Haselbach "Artists and their public" in: "Artists
facing society", Estonian National Commission for UNESCO,
Tallin 1996, pp. 66-80
1 I shall
deal only with the literary and visual arts. Including the performing
arts, where the presence of creating or recreating artists leads
to a great variety of multiple and overlapping relations, would
complicate the argument far beyond the space available.
statement suggests - contrary to widely shared belief - that,
on the one hand, the intention to refer of a speaker or any presentator
of symbols (including artists) is - by itself - of no direct
relevance to the process of reference and that, on the other
hand, symbols created (including works of art) and words spoken
do not refer by themselves.
processes that led to something appearing as beautiful are irrelevant
to being beautiful. Something is beautiful (to someone), or it
is not. The search for how something has come about is a mode
of deferred interpretation, not a mode of instantaneous perceiving
mediated by our senses.
is trivial is the observation which is an everyday observation
made time and again. Taking that observation seriously - not
interpreting it away - has consequences that are anything but
Wittgenstein, »Philosophical Investigations«, Part
II, xi, passim, Oxford 1953. - As to how >uno actu< should
be interpreted see my remarks on perceptual time and the >short
Wittgenstein, op. cit, Part II, xi, p. 200e.
explication du type: >Ceci, c'est en réalité
seulement cela<.« in: Ludwig Wittgenstein, »Leçons
sur l'Esthétique«, III, §22, in: »Leçons
et conversations«, Textes établis par Cyril Barrett
d'après les notes prises par Yarick Smithies, Rush Rhees
and James Taylor, Gallimard, Paris 1971, p. 58
Cézanne, »Über die Kunst«, Gepräche
mit Gasquet, Briefe; Reinbek 1957, p. 13 /my translation
Nelson Goodman, »Ways of Worldmaking«, Hackett Publishing
Company, Indianapolis 1978, where he refers to experiments undertaken
by and reported in: Paul A. Kolers, »Aspects of Motion
Perception«, Pergamon Press, Oxford 1972, p. 72-83
Rodin, »Rodin on Art and Artists«, Conversations
with Paul Gsell, New York 1983, p. 34. The original publication:
Rodin, »L'art«, Entretiens réunis par Paul
Gsell, was published in Paris in 1911.
A way of thinking for which Norbert Elias uses the term >Zustandsreduktion<.
See Norbert Elias, »Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation«,
Frankfurt/M 1976, passim
Maurice Raynal, »Conception and Vision«, Gil Blas,
29 August 1912; reprinted (in English translation) in: Edward
F. Fry, »Cubism«, London 1978, p. 95
This point has been developed largely following Elmar Holenstein's
line of thought in: Arne Haselbach »On ways and patterns
of thinking«, my contribution to the Ljubljana meeting
on >Multiple identity: What is it? How does it work?<,
Auguste Rodin, op. cit, p. 32
Auguste Rodin, op. cit, p. 33
Auguste Rodin, op. cit, p. 35
See E. Pöppel, »Die Grenzen des Bewußtseins.
Über Wirklichkeit und Welterfahrung«, Stuttgart 1985
See the chapter on >Motion< in: Nicholas J. Wade and Michael
Swanston, »Visual Perception«, Routledge, London
1991, pp. 129-163
I am fully aware that this statement implies an enormous number
of operations going on in our brain during any such period. I
would like to remind anyone who challenges this assumption (e.g.
on the basis of the well established fact that we can retain
only a very limited number of unrelated data (5 to 7) in our
immediate memory) that the number of receptors in our retina
is in the order of 125 million, that the number of cells in the
brain is in the order of 10 12 (a million million), and that
the number of connections in the brain is in the order of 10
15 (a thousand million million). Mistaking conscious memory for
total information processed, construing a single datum as one
single unit of information, and accepting the normative notion
of simplicity as a description of what goes on in our brain,
are some of the fallacies involved in projecting a monstrously
decapacitated human mind.
My notion >cumulative addition< should not be mistaken
for the notion of addition as used in mathematics. Cumulative
addition does not produce a sum total; rather it produces a plurality
of similar or complementary traces of experience, traces that
are interconnected, interwoven, and overlapping.