The Public as Artist

The work of art, be it visual, literary, theatrical, musical, or anything else,  implies a division between the artist and a public, even if the position of the artist is multiple and undefined, even if the position of the public is occupied only by the artist.  This division is, or should be, only a provisional one, as when the artist continually functions as a public for the work of art as it is being created, as when the public is driven by the work of art to make art itself.  In practise, however, the division between artist and public is too often understood as absolute, or at the very least as surmountable only by the greatest difficulty, where the artist as genius produces the work of art almost entirely without influence, as an original work, and where the public passively receives this work, permitted only to critique art, never to participate in its creation.

This understanding of art is not supportable.  The figure of the artist as original genius is an obvious if persistent falsehood, in every case, and the figure of the passive public, though all too real in most cases, is the very antithesis of art.  If the public’s experience of art does not result in the creation of more art, than art has failed.  The work of art and its experience should, in every case, without exception, call the public to become the artist, and the work of creating art should, in ever case, without exception, drive the artist to become the public for other art.

A merely disinterested, passive, observing, critiquing public that refuses to participate in the creation of art ensures only that art will be confined to museums and universities, the domain of curators and professors and critics and other professional pedants who are more interested in describing and classifying art than in living through it.  This is not to suggest that the role of the public as critic is without value.  It is to suggest that public criticism must have as its aim the creation of new art, that it is too often concerned only with being criticism, and that criticism apart from creation is the destruction of art.

The public that art creates must never be satisfied to remain only a public.  It must begin to understand that being a public is an inseparable part of being the artist, that the public and the artist lead naturally one to the other, interpenetrate each other, cannot exist one without the other, must never be made to exist in isolation.  Unless the public must become the artist, art fails to be art, because it fails to be lived by those who offer and receive it.

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