Creating a work of art requires a long, dedicated thought process. You need to think about everything that goes into building your piece: subject matter, composition, color, etc. But what about the setting? When I say the setting of the piece, I’m not talking about the location of your subjects within the work, I mean the physical location surrounding the work. While it’s generally not something we think about when experiencing work in an exhibition, art does not exist in empty space. Whether we like it or not, the environment of a work of art impacts how the piece is viewed by its audience. The presentation of a work, meaning the physical manifestation of a piece’s concept within its location, has the ability to increase its conceptual depth and impact when properly utilized.
In order to fully understand presentation and placement, it’s important to have an awareness of its historical background. Presentation and placement have always been essential in art, but their execution in the western art sphere had been somewhat static before the trend of Modernism in the late 1800s – framed paintings hung edge-to-edge in galleries, sculptures on pedestals with 360⁰ views, and huge tapestries covering walls. Of course, this is a bit of a generalization, but most of this work shared this common quality of objectivity to the audience: the viewers had no active role in the art. One of the effects of Modernism was the shift in how art is experienced by the viewer. Audiences moved beyond this passive viewing, gaining the power to interpret art individually. This idea is furthered by the Abstract Expressionist movement, and by extension Mark Rothko’s color field paintings. These massive, bold works were created specifically for the modern white-walled gallery space; Rothko’s paintings wouldn’t be nearly as effective simply hung in someone’s home or next to another work. This innovative movement brought more attention and focus to the placement of art in its environment. And, with the progression of multimedia technologies, the parameters of the presentation of art were dramatically expanded. For example, contemporary paintings no longer need to be framed and hung on a wall – they can be projected onto the ceiling or installed outdoors. Artwork has no obligation to fit into a specific category, either – multimedia work allows for concepts and craftsmanship to be displayed however is most conducive to the artist’s intent.
Daan Roosegaarde at Studio Roosegaarde
LEDs, sensor technology, and sound speakers
Photo provided by Studio Roosgaarde on Flickr
Mental Health Care GGz Breburg
I think I can help to clarify this idea by breaking down a specific example. Lunar (see image, above) is an art exhibit installed in the youth division of a mental health care center in Breda, a city in the Netherlands. The piece is composed of several LED tubes that react to touch, emitting calming cosmic noises and celestial color changes. The installation is placed in the middle of one of the main hallways, allowing easy accessibility to the comforting piece without blocking traffic flow in the building. The work is presented in life-sized pillars firmly attached to the ground, making it approachable and inviting to interact with. The sensors also welcome the youth in the care center by rewarding their interaction with sounds and colors. Created specifically for this mental health care center, this work is stable in placement and presentation, enhancing its therapeutic purpose.
Considering the experience of the audience when creating a work of art is a much more involved process than it was in the past. While this does give the artist more to think about and accomplish, it generates a better-rounded and fully complete piece. You can apply this to your own work by asking yourself a couple questions when working on a piece:
- How do you want your audience to experience your piece?
- This is completely up to you and your work – whether you want your piece to be highly interactive, offer a serene experience, or boldly stop people in their tracks. Reflect on what feeling or experience would most effectively convey and enhance your idea.
- How can you accomplish this goal with your chosen medium?
- This is the execution stage. If you want your piece to be interactive, maybe adding a technological factor would help it; if you want your work to be confrontational, consider increasing its size and placing it in an unavoidable space.
Next time you begin a work of art, think about the viewers – it’s beneficial to you, your work, and everyone who experiences your creation.
Need help starting a piece? Try one of our studio arts classes!