How important is the history of a piece to your enjoyment of it? How important is the cultural environment surrounding an artwork—the when and where of its creation?
I was at a meeting of the Creative House of Lancaster last night and we were participating in a grad student’s project involving a free-form discussion based on different theories. There was a series of quotes taken out of context for us to riff off of. One of them particularly struck me and made me think of the questions at the top of the post.
Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. …the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity…the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.
—Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)
One of the most important parts of my artworks to me is the part of its history which no one else who sees it will experience. The creation of the idea and the process of designing and physically making the piece are very meaningful to me. This is a part of the work’s history. But then it moves forward, following its own path. It might be in exhibitions. It might be in a book or magazine. It might be work by one person or by many.
But when you look at a piece of artwork, does any of that matter to you, or is it how it makes you feel in that moment? Does knowing the history of a piece change your relationship to it? Go ahead and get existential in your comments. Start a conversation!