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The experience of Art

Updated: May 16, 2022

Art is something presented to us for which an intention is not declared: if an object or an action is put in front of us, outside any functional context, without clear purpose except that of being exhibited. Art can and should provoke wildly different reactions –interest, admiration, amusement, indifference or even outrage. It emits a plurality of signs. It is super charged, empowered with what viewers send back to it, rather than what the artist intended.

Art introduces depth into something that’s flat – a canvas, a page, a partition, a screen – or movement in something that’s still: stone, clay, metal, air. It opens a door for our mind to get absorbed. If it works effectively, art makes us lose track of time. It creates a world we can lose ourselves into.

There are two types of art:

- Time-art includes music, literature, film, danse, and performances. Production (and re-production) is part of the work. Some incarnation is required after the art has been designed for it to exist in the world: the partition must be played by instruments, the text must be printed, the movie must be directed and projected, the drama and the performance must be directed and played. This type of art results from the work of various contributors: an original author and one (or multiples) producer(s). It requires time to be authored, produced (at times re-produced), and experienced.

o Shakespeare’s original manuscripts come alive in the hands of theater directors, producers and actors and the audience ideally experiences them preferably played (if not, read).

o Flaubert’s manuscripts would be unreadable if not transcribed by an editor and a printer. Several editions of the same manuscripts may get published over time, and readers do not have to own the original edition to enjoy the art.

o A scenario and synopsis become a movie under the expert hands of a director, actors, light technicians, cameramen and others. Remakes are rarely better than the original, but people go to see them anyways.

o A ballet needs dancers and, if successful, will get performed by multiple danse troops.

o The same song often has an author and an interpret. It can be performed by different performers and recorded under different production conditions.

In essence, time-art keeps living (and keeps paying its contributors, through royalties).

- Space-art is comprised of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, ceramic, and mosaic. This type of art is entirely contained in the original object produced by the artist. It doesn’t require additional treatment (other than conservation). It is rather important that its original state be preserved.

Space art also requires time to be authored, but it doesn’t need further actualization beyond its initial form. It isn’t meant to be performed or reproduced. Actually, its value often increases with time and/or the death of its creator who is the only one able to claim its authorship. The physical condition of this type of art is paramount: the preservation of the original piece can become a technical feat in and off itself.

Space-art is vulnerable to decay (and the original author historically only got paid once, since 100% of its ownership would get transferred, when sold). Digital art and NFTs are revolutionizing space-art because digital drawings, photography, and paintings are resistant to decay and NFTs provide royalties to creators who never used to get any.

In rare instances, space-art borrows some elements of time-art. Such is the case of architecture. It is prone to decay (it can be restored, like other space-art) and it is not meant to be reproduced: the original building is the one people refer to. But, just like time-art, it comes originally in the form of drawings that need further actualization: the original plans are supposed to be built by others. The only difference with other space art is that architecture is site-specific (and built only for one location). It shouldn’t, even if builders had access to the exact material and techniques specified by the architect, be rebuilt anywhere else, and there shouldn’t be two of the same. Now imagine if architects started to sell their designs through NFTs -they could potentially get royalties over the massive resale values that their constructions could bring in the future.

Time-art and space-art both get displayed into codified spaces that introduce an additional layer to the way we experience them. Theaters and movie theaters, museums, galleries, music hall, or even the conditions under which we read a specific book or discover a specific song will influence our experience of it. The lighting or the acoustics are poor, and the magic may be lost. Rarely does the artist fully control the conditions under which his art will be displayed.

Sol LeWitt blurred these lines when he left precise instructions for others to paint its compositions on Mass MOCA’s large walls after his death. MassMOCA asked dozens of senior experts, but also interns and students to work on these large drawings for six months, according to the artists’ exact specifications. The exhibition will be displayed until 2043. What should happen afterwards? Since it was site specific, should these walls be preserved and installed somewhere else? Should they be repainted?

This reflection on time and space has ramifications on the way we perceive and set up our homes.

In our homes, we set our décor (objects, furniture, art, colors, light) according to a well-balanced, organized and/or aesthetically pleasing composition, and once we find a placement that we like, we tend to leave things in their place (that’s also the best way to find what we’re looking for when we need it!).

Our living space becomes a comforting and somewhat static place. Our bodies still move in the home, but the walls stay where they are, and rest of the objects moves a little. We buy new objects when the ones we have get old. The range of emotion our décor procures us, diminishes with time. We barely notice it anymore. We get used to it. Some of us put up a mess, redecorate or renovate their homes and inject new life in it. But invariably, we surround ourselves with static things.

The challenge is, as humans, we want to feel alive and love to be entertained. We brought into our houses home theaters, surround sound systems, unlimited lectures through our personal tablet or phone. What’s next? How can a home elicit even more powerful sensations and emotions: surprise, awe, amusement, fear, curiosity? This can be achieved by borrowing elements of other time-arts, and more specifically: immersive installations and performances. This is the promise of consumer AR and VR and in the physical world, of a scenography made of light, colors, touch, smells, sounds, or taste.

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