Is there such a thing as the ‘mass reception’ of an artwork?

I’ve just cut the first few pages out of a notebook, to re-purpose it. One of those pages is a couple of sentences of musings/the start of an argument about an issue I’ve often thought about. They start to explain why I always resist making an objective/subjective distinction in talking about art, and why engagement with art has to, I think, operate at the level/scale it does. Here is what I wrote (partly being transcribed here so I can throw the piece of paper away):

In order for its meaning to be released/realised, for it to become the kind of thing it is designed to be, an artwork has to react with a human brain. In a sense, then, there is no such thing as ‘mass reaction/reception’, only an agglomeration of individual responses. The individual experience is an ineliminable part of the way artworks come to have meaning.

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Is it irrational to feel personally attached to the people who make the art one loves?

This post is a response to a blog post and a vlog post by my friend Matthew, over on his new blog, Pateman’s Ponderings. Those posts were prompted by the various reactions to Kai Cole’s publication of her account of her ex-husband Joss Whedon’s infidelity. I have no interest in contributing to that debate specifically, but as someone with Romantic and even auteurist leanings, I did want to respond briefly to some of the theoretical foundations upon which Matthew rests his response/metaresponse.

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Planning and what freedom feels like

It seems useful to temper what follows with an initial note of humility, irony, and defeat. I have a to-do list, and writing this blog post is the most overdue item on it (it was originally meant to be done by the 28th of January – of this year, at least!). Anyway…

It is difficult, as one moves deeper into the demands of work and parenthood, to avoid running together in one’s mind two things: i) a sense of freedom; ii) long stretches of unstructured time, free from the demands of others. ii) certainly creates i), but it is important to remember that it is not the only way of creating it. Failing to recognise this can lead to a bitter nostalgia trap: you look back longingly to a time of youthful freedom and spontaneity, never to be regained.

Planning is the opposite of spontaneity, but it is not the opposite of freedom. I keep trying to remind myself of this. Writing this blog post is a way of trying to articulate it. In the interests of brevity and vividness, I’ll just offer two examples, one home-related, one work-related.

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Stories and the internet

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 29 April 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

New technologies have an effect upon the way we ‘consume’ fiction (amongst other things), but they also have an effect on the kinds of fictional scenarios that are plausible if stories are set in the present. ‘Don’t let a mobile phone ruin your movie’ is the tagline of and premise behind a still-current series of Orange cinema adverts (which, although they do not ‘ruin’ my trips to the cinema, certainly constitute a source of irritation).

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The weight of the past

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 5 December 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

(This is a companion blog to an earlier entry which used 4’33”to think about what happens when the medium used to (re)produce music shifts. The current entry thinks about photography, with the help of a book and a television programme.)

A few weeks ago, in a cafe or a restaurant, I noticed a couple looking through a set of photographs that they had just gotten back from being developed – a commonplace sight as recently as perhaps six or seven years ago, but much less so now.

Nostalgia touches photographs in many ways. In her beautiful book On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote:

A photograph of 1900 that was affecting then because of its subject would, today, be more likely to move us because it is a photograph taken in 1900. The particular qualities and intentions of photographs tend to be swallowed up in the generalized pathos of time past. Aesthetic distance seems built into the very experience of looking at photographs, if not right away, then certainly with the passage of time. Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.

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Four minutes thirty three seconds of silence

Over the next few months I am re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 4 December 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

I was hoping to have a blog about Jay-Z ready on the occasion of his forty-first birthday, but, having made very little progress with Decoded so far, that has not happened. So I’m going to write on another musical topic that caught my attention a while back (and whilst a blog about Jay-Z will still be pertinent even if it lacks the touch of being posted on his birthday, this blog needs to be written before Christmas).

On Desert Island Discs a few weeks back, Ian McMillan, a South Yorkshire poet, chose John Cage’s 4’33” as one of his Desert Island Discs (along with tracks by Vaughan Williams, Andy Stewart, Doris Day, Love, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Bing Crosby and Leonard Bernstein). In fact, he chose it as the one track he would, if push came to shove, take with him, stating that it would be the one that ‘always renewed itself’. I don’t know if he’s right about that, but it is certainly the case that it is the track that is most dependent on its listening context for its meaning.

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