Saturday, 27 February 2010

Ambiguity – naturally not always what it cracks up to be.

I do not understand the modern desire for ambiguity in the art we look over. Surely clarity has greater power? Let me quote Jake and Dinos Chapman’s F*** Face, 1994. There is no doubt as to the statement being made (though it need not always be so forceful and crude as in this instillation) and its imagery remains strong in your memory due to its transparency. I do not understand the modern need to be uncertain – to not know the answer. I want to know the answer and have the knowledge. Perhaps I’m just not post-modern enough?

What does this ambiguity do? It is the selfish quest of the audience. It makes us feel intelligent – this is not enough of the reason for it. Equally it expands our imagination – this too should not be the aim of art. Gary Hume summarises this pro-equivocation point of view when he discusses his work, “The viewer can’t be wrong. This is why I don’t explain them [his pieces of art]. I’m secondary – the viewer is primary.” But, the viewer can be wrong! If each viewer has a different opinion, and some contradict, how can they all be right?

I want the artist to have more power, and not be enslaved to pleasing an audience. I want the art historian to regain some authority too, that he/she can state from research what was the intention of the long-dead artists, so that the poor voiceless creator cannot be misunderstood and ill-judged. This is less of a pressing issue, as generally pre-modern works don’t dabble into the ambiguous anyway, and wisely I say!

One of my art school tutors advised my friend to morph a textbook illustration of a muscle, into something less well-formed in order to welcome in the intrusive ambiguous. Imitation isn’t great… but, nor is consumerism – lazily lacking purpose and message so that the audience can boost their artistic pride in interpretation. It is also a fear of realism that should not be encouraged. Power is greatest in the revelation of truth. And these are great works of art.


  1. I could not agree more. I think the YBA's were particularly guilty of such a fault. I cannot stand the pretentious, "let's stroke our chins, contemplate and look superior" element of contemporary art. Although this comment is posted through the tinted vision of an Oscar Wilde-reading aestheticist, I remain convinced that work such as Emin's tent is rubbish. All it does is make us think about what the work is supposed to mean, rather than appreciate it for it's form/function. We do not look at a Turner painting and think about why, we think about what. Mucha, Morris, Beardsley, Lalique, those are the artists that I truly appreciate, because I do not stand, stare and wonder "why", I stand, stare and wonder at aesthetic, natural, beautiful work, stylized to just the right proportions.

  2. Hmmmmm I'm not so sure. Maybe I feel differently coming from a film studies background, but I think there's always going to be a strong element of viewer interpretation that the artist can't necessarily control, regardless of how clear the artist is with their intentions - and why not harness that? Or maybe I've just seen to many David Lynch are right though, this seems to be very popular thinking at the moment, any artist who doesn't think of their creations this way (like your friend) is going against the grain.