color Beyond Kandinsky: Two responses to Session III

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

Two responses to Session III

Session III: Art and Its Audience

(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?

Experience in the making and beholding of art is crucial. It is all in the quality of attention.

(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?

Writing serves art as a dialogue. Writing is crucial.


  1. Thanks, Max. I agree wholeheartedly about the centrality of experience in art -- on both ends of the making/beholding continuum -- but it seems increasingly clear to me that the kind of attention we're talking about is under assault from all cultural directions and is seriously at risk of becoming a rarefied experience pursued only by the few. Someone here earlier (I think it was Joseph) cited a statistic about the number of seconds the average viewer spends with a work of art these days, and the number was in the single digits (most probably under five). This is horrifying to me. Time being such a crucial element in visual art (even in the "still arts," as we painters know), how can anyone really have an experience with a work without it? Art simply doesn't lend itself to "speed viewing."

    Another issue that provoked my question was the now-prevalent tendency to think and talk about art in terms of "decoding" -- as if each work of art were an encrypted message that the viewer's job is to "crack." This turns art into a kind of intellectual game with a very clear point and end (i.e., "getting the message" = you win!), and reduces meaning to a one-dimensional gimmick.

    I wonder if you'd share some of your thoughts about these things, since you've been experiencing the vicissitudes of the art world for far longer than I and no doubt have a much broader perspective.

  2. I think this discussion is very important. I love to hear what others say about the "Experience in the making and beholding". On one hand, I totally agree on "the centrality of experience in art", on the other hand, I've noticed people's preference of their "experienceable" (or, perceivable, in a weaker sense). (And it seems to me that viewpants' occupations tend to encode them with preoccupations.) So I wonder how both ends meet. Especially in the making of art, should an artist adapt the work to a mixed group of viewpants?----Suppose our viewpants are of very different backgrounds, in particular, a great diversity of their occupations (we may assume that the global network already/will even out geographic/cultural difference... ).

  3. Yuting, can you say more about what you mean by people's preferring their own "experienceable"? Do you mean that people have difficulty entering into work that is foreign to their own personal or cultural sensibilities? If so, I would agree that, yes, this is definitely a barrier to participation. People are often disinclined to give work that doesn't confirm their own "knowns" a second glance. But of course this is precisely the point of art: to take one out of one's knowns and provide an opening onto a space where they can dwell in the unknowns for a bit (and then, ultimately, to emerge an altered human being). But if the work is too "foreign" (read: threatening) the probability of entry is slim.

    My instinctual answer to your question about whether artists should "adapt" their work to a specific audience is no, because once we begin creating *for* an audience we become message-senders, idea-illustrators, social workers, or propagandists rather than artists. But I understand the source of your concern. I simply don't know what to do to encourage people to take the leap into art that challenges them. The verbal promise of reward is evidently not very convincing.

  4. Yes, Taney, pretty much as what you clearly said, the "entrance" problem. In fact I have some people(my friends) in my mind as models, to pose the question of their "experienceable". Few of my friends like art,(which they think is not perceivable, or they are not sensitive enough to perceive it). It leaves me to wonder how to involve more people in general by widening the entrance. I know it's hard to preserve the essence of the work and entice people into it, at the same time. Well, some people appear very interested in what they are interested in. That's what make me think hard to add the "bait"/adaption(elements of typical interests of viewpants) to the work. That is a hard problem to me.

  5. one little thing to add. the entrance may better be considered as a passage with beginning or end, not just the moment of entering. for example, applied to a film, the problem is how to provide a plausible thread that clings to a viewer throughout the screening time. And so, if viewers are of different types, the threads are many, and they makes a work complicated.