Artistic Phenomena

An artistic phenomenon is a concept that means, basically, any small or large aspect to a visual image that is exciting, captivating, inspiring or otherwise mentally engaging.  Which is to say that art itself is composed of those visual aspects that excite, captivate, inspire or otherwise mentally engage us.  Whatever you see that causes that to happen –induces that effect– is an artistic phenomenon.  Any image may have several of these artistic aspects of varying significance and interest.  It’s relevant to a study of art because one may find artistic aspects to an artwork that the artist never intended or in automatic imagery that by nature is completely accidental and also unintentional.  When you start to look for artistic phenomena you start to look at everything like an artist.  This is the concept of “taking an art attitude” that George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus movement conceived of.  You can apply to anything you can see, really; art in a gallery or art “growing wild”.

For example:

Ilya Repin, Unexpected Visitors, 1886

Notice the expressions on all the faces, everyone of them.  Note particularly the young boy versus the young girl, at the table.  The boy’s head is high while the girl’s is low; it conveys a differing personality confronted by the same event.  Anyhow, this is obviously one of those great works of art in the conventional sense of gifted artist and painstaking work, and it is all that.  But something else occurred to me when I first saw this image and regarded all the faces and postures:  what great actors all these characters are!  Which gradually made me realize, since they’re all the product of the artist’s imagination and not real, that a great artist is often also a great film director.  An entire five-minute scene, complete with dialogue, is right there.  Several different shots (eg. boy and girl) are all merged into one image.  It’s like a giant omelet in the pan before it’s divided up and served on several different plates.

That is an aspect of the artwork that is –what?  Intentional?  Important?  It’s just something I sensed and I think it’s a nuance that is apparent to others once it’s mentioned.  Of course, this sort of theatrical analysis of a famous painted scene is common in art criticism and discussion, so I’m not saying anything particularly brilliant, but there it is: an example of artistic phenomena.  We can make something new just by looking at art.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

I call it, “The Knife-Edge of Town”That concept or impression is an artistic phenomena.  Notice the overgrown and uninhabited aspect to that “river corner”.  It’s the edge of what we can see farther down the river becomes a dense urban environment, but here where the river turns the corner and heads back into that great city, it’s almost a wilderness, like the proverbial, “edge of town”.  But look how sharply the houses and walls define the river’s edge and shore; it makes the edge of town clean and sharp like the edge of a knife.

The concept of artistic phenomena is something that will quickly become quite relevant when once one gets into the habit of taking an art attitude to whatever they look at.  It becomes the thing that makes art artistic and how many phenomena one sees will also quickly be realized to be a matter of how one looks and what strikes their interest.  Art is as much a creative act of the viewer as it is of the art itself.  Whether the artist intended it or not, or whether there is any artist involved at all (ie. automatic imagery) is not as important as whether one sees such phenomena.

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