color Beyond Kandinsky: Session III: Art and Its Audience

The year 2011 marks the centennial of the publication of Wassily Kandinsky's classic text, On the Spiritual in Art. Inspired by this anniversary, this project set out to explore the place of the spiritual in contemporary art and to propose a challenge to the current devaluation of the inner life that prevails within the art world in our market-driven era.

Beginning on Wednesday, March 30th, 2011, a ten-day virtual symposium moderated by Taney Roniger and Eric Zechman was held in this forum. The symposium closed on the evening of Friday, April 8th. Below is the full record of the proceedings.

Panelists invited to participate were: Suzanne Anker, Laura Battle, Connie Beckley, Anney Bonney, Deirdre Boyle, Nathaniel Dorsky, Jeff Edwards, James Elkins, Max Gimblett, Tom Huhn, Atta Kim, Roger Lipsey, Enrique Martinez Celaya, Joseph Nechvatal, Daniel Siedell, Charlene Spretnak, David Levi Strauss, Alan Wanzenberg, and Pawel Wojtasik. For participant biographies and other project details, please visit our site:


March 30th–April 1st: Session I: The Spiritual Then and Now

April 2nd–April 3rd: Session II: The Changing Shape of Art

April 4th-5th: Session III: Art and Its Audience

April 6th–April 7th: Session IV: The Artist in Society

April 8th: Conclusions


Monday, April 4, 2011

Session III: Art and Its Audience

With our third session, which will carry us through the next two days, we’ll shift our focus away from art and its making and toward the various ways in which it is experienced and understood by its audience. Keeping in mind the larger context of a culture in which entertainment has acquired the status of a primary value, I present the following questions for consideration:

  1. What is the current role of experience in the making and beholding of art? Has aesthetic experience been displaced by the current practices of interpretation, “decoding,” identifying references, etc?
  2. Is there a relationship between synaesthesia and the “immersive experiences” of today’s multi-media and interactive art? What might the rise of these immersive forms say about the role and status of the body in an emerging worldview?
  3. What role might there be for art criticism in providing new interpretive frameworks that include room for the recognition of the spiritual in art?
  4. Is it time to replace “the viewer” with a designation less mired in the Modernist ethos of objectivity, distance, “disinterestedness,” etc.? If so, what might some alternative terms be?
  5. How might a different understanding of the experiential or spiritual value of art pose a challenge to the current emphasis on monetary value endemic to our market-based system?


  1. Re point #4: One of the wider implications for art in our new viractual space is the proclivity to solicit the theoretical viewer/participant (what I call the viewpant) to respond to the work in both a contemplative and physical way, or at least in an implied tension between these two poles when one side outweighs the other. It is important to remember that the viewpant is involved often with a series of different levels of contemplation/action in a dynamic emergent continuum.

  2. I couldn't agree more, Joseph, about the need to encourage "viewers" to engage with work in a way that includes *all* aspects of the bodymind (I want to thank Charlene for this word, which I'd not heard of until coming across it in one of her books recently). The privileging of sight, with its implications of distance or separation from that which is being beheld, is part of the old paradigm of dichotomous thinking that we're trying to move beyond. Toward this end, I'd prefer a new term devoid of the word "viewer" altogether -- one that would emphasize the entire bodymind *and* its relationship to its environment. I've gotten in the habit in recent years of using the term "experient," but that now strikes me as too passive. I might simply prefer "participant."

    In any case, we certainly need to work toward an increased awareness of the participant's role co-creating each work he/she experiences, as well as an increased awareness of the role of the functions one typically considers "merely" somatic in this process. Nathaniel Dorsky, whose work we'll be showing tomorrow at SVA, has written about film's appeal to the human metabolism -- about how a large part of the transformative potential of the film experience is in the degree of the work's resonance with the deep internal rhythms of the human body. Although he's speaking primarily of and for film, I think we can extend the idea to transformative art of any medium. My own sense is that much of what we take to be a work's "presence" has to do with this.

  3. Today I am absorbing the notion of telepresence, of seeing art as a way of mapping a series of relationships that explore where we are now and as we want to be in the future (Roy Ascott). This is not a new concept but about contemporary art is about finding ways to build on past ideas in new and innovative ways. I just watched a TED talk by John Crawford who presents Embodied Media in Performance: ‪

    Telepresence refers to performances that happen in multiple sites simultaneously; embodied media in performance uses the lessons from the performing ‬arts to connect and create a new way of interacting with computational devices and tools, including real-time interaction in or through augmented, or virtual 3D platforms and environments. This notion addresses how audiences make substantive interventions in performances by artists, whether in physical or virtual space.