Ambiguity (1)

Art that makes things easy can be easily ignored. It’s only when things are unclear that art can demand attention.

Granted, this only works when the reader (for the sake of simplicity let’s assume we’re talking about literature) either really loves or really hates what they’re reading. If they love it, then naturally they’ll want to defend it, and if there’s some nagging ideological point that’s not quite clear, they’ll want to come up with an interpretation that lands the novel on their side so they can enjoy it guilt-free. And if they hate it, then maybe they’ll want to back that hate up with an argument that it’s offensive not just to the aesthetic sense but to the moral. In either case, we’ve got them thinking critically, and that’s better for everyone than the readers just putting the piece down and forgetting about it. That’s my case for ambiguity, and that’s the sense in which I think art should be provocative – transgression must be subtle and to some degree up to the reader. Being blatantly and unilaterally offensive accomplishes nothing. And of course, it has to be fun to read and readable too, or else no one would read it through to the end who isn’t already beyond help.


2 responses to “Ambiguity (1)

  1. True, I can’t really argue with your ideas save to say this: that there is a difference between the response of love and that of hate. With hate, the reader is far more likely to critically engage the work in such a way as to prove it wrong or work extra hard to understand it. The same is true for love when that love is in appreciation of what the work is accomplishing, no even more so it is in comprehension of what it is accomplishing.

    I turn to the visual arts in thinking about love or admiration that is useless. So many people will attest to their love of Monet’s waterlilies, yet very few can describe in any level of depth the revolutionary approach Monet and even earlier, Manet took to painting that produced such an aesthetically attractive work.

    I feel the same can also be true with hate (to contradict myself). For hate, Duchamp and Fountain come to mind. An artistic object which is extremely ambiguous in its artistic characteristics and even its merit as art itself. Fountain has been quickly brushed off as inappropriate and lacking in anything artistic. These critics spend at most seconds to come to this conclusion from which they never address the work again.

    However when the level of engagement you are describing occurs it does produces something worthwhile, an event in the relationship between the work and the viewer that does hold meaning for the evolution of art. The alteration I would make on your argument however is that the transgression, or rather the existence of a transgression occurring within the work, needs to be birthed by the viewer not the creator. Regardless of what that work of art was designed for it must, as Barthes will attest to with his ‘Death of the Author,’ as just a work of art engage the reader (or viewer) on its own and therefore force the viewer (or reader) to define what it is about that work of art that is so stimulating, regardless of whether or not that stimulation is inherent in the art or was the intent of the artist or not.

    It is the viewer that matters!


  2. Pingback: Dance: thoughts on form and presentation « Comparative Blogging Foundation

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