Joan Miro, "Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird", 1926; oil on canvas, 73.7×92cm; Collection of MoMA. ©2011 Successio Miro Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ ADAGP, Paris

Joan Miro, “Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird”, 1926; oil on canvas, 73.7×92cm; Collection of MoMA. ©2011 Successio Miro Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ ADAGP, Paris

by Chi Haipeng

The original understanding of the term “viewer” is actually very simple, that is, people who watch shows, competitions, television or movies. Everyone used to be a viewer, a rubberneck can be a viewer, as were people who appreciate art. In my opinion, there are three types of “viewer” corresponding to different ways of appreciation: the first level is to look at, pure look, this kind of viewer in similar to a bystander who just looks at the surface of things with rare mental activities; the second is to look with interest and be attracted by things themselves, some reactions occur between the heart and the object; the third level is to strike a chord, there is not only interaction between heart and object but also perception or reflection about the object. These three kinds of viewers can be called “onlooker”, “reviewer” and “bosom friend” respectively. There are not absolute barriers between different types of viewers but only different life experiences and education levels which result in the difference of their inner demands.

In the field of art, the viewer and the artist have the need to communicate and the artwork is the bridge of communication. There is a saying in the theory of art that an artwork is not completed

only by the artist, once cut off from the artist to enter into the public arena, its original meaning has changed. After the viewer’s seeing, experiencing, thinking and responding, on one hand, rich and diverse meanings of artworks can be extended, on the other hand, the inner demand of the viewer and artist on communication can also be fulfilled to some extent.

First, onlooker

Among the three different types of viewers, the “onlooker” seems shallow, but it is essential. When exposed to some fresh things with little knowledge, the viewer will become an “onlooker”, for example, people who enter in Museum of Fine Arts for the first time. What they request in their hearts is just to satisfy their inner curiosity, the viewer will be more interested in artworks which are traditional, beautiful or with a rich narrative; such artworks usually have strong “descriptions”, which not only make up the curious psychology of the onlooker’s curiosity for “seeing”, but also enable them to explain the meaning of artworks and derive corresponding information through the “look-and-say method”, thus to lay a foundation for the viewer’s further understanding of artworks.

If arts institutions want to arouse the viewer’s interest for art projects, the foundation work is to analyze their inner necessity, an exhibition caters to a group or audience who have little knowledge about art and must satisfy their needs as much as possible, that is, “good-looking”. Of course, the “onlooker’s” construction of the meaning of artworks is extremely limited, which just stays in the level of interpreting the readable content. In addition, communication between the viewer and the artist are very limited, usually a non-parallel relationship, either one party’s education against the other or misreading in reverse.

Second, reviewer

Reviewer’s perception of artworks steps further. Theoretically, such viewers usually have a certain artistic culture, such as fellow artists, critics, curators and other art practitioners, or art lovers with some knowledge of art history and theory. So when the reviewer is appreciating an artwork, he can not only understand the contents but also be able to perceive the language of the artwork and get pleasure from similar “meaningful form”. This mode of communication is no mere “seeing,” but rather an immersion or graceful experience. However, the reality is much more complex, an artist once said:

It seems that today’s art excessively depends on the interpretation of the concept that just focuses on one work’s program as quite enough; today’s art is unduly absorbed by connections with politics, philosophy, sociology, as well as new branches of science in order to highlight their own modernity, tolerance and life, which show an unprecedented identification-lost and diffidence. Contemporary art today has unnecessarily asked the viewer to do more homework on the background of the artworks as well as the means of expression, this has resulted in most of today’s viewers being more unfamiliar with art than any time in history .

Very often, people who considered themselves having reached the level of “reviewer” used to be too rational when interpreting artworks. The key reason is that the higher the education degree is, the more rational the mode of perceiving the world will be. Affective thinking will be dull along with personal growth. Therefore, in the face of artworks, a small number of the audience who fancied themselves learned will burrow excessively on the epitaxial levels of politics, philosophy, sociology and ignore the perception of the artistic language, that’s why “most of today’s viewers are more unfamiliar with art than any time in the history”. So the “reviewer” is not yet available, how to reach the level of the “confidant” .

Third, bosom friend

After Zhong Ziqi died due to ill health, Yu Boya smashed his guqin because he believed no one again could grasp his music, a bosom friend is hard to find, this is the origin of the term “bosom friend”. With the creation of art, an artist will not necessarily show his whole thought and what an artwork presents are only pieces of the mood, it is difficult to show a complete individual system of the artist. An artwork can be a very personal presentation, but it may give the viewers deep emotional stirrings because some of their experiences. In this process, if the viewer’s feelings are stirred by an artwork they then have some influence, which indicates the viewer’s identification of the artwork, then this viewer is the bosom friend whom the artist is looking for. If the bosom friend is an art practitioner, he may be deeply touched after seeing and experiencing the artwork, thereby to think or even to act, this “bosom friend” is very likely to be a Bole who discovered the artist.

Contemporary art in the current year is in a situation of changing generations, artistic creation of a grand narrative has slowly faded, voiced-opinions about universal values and standards are feeble, at the same time, the artworks of a new generation of artists are too selfless, at this time, the role of the “bosom friend” seems extremely important. However, the cases that the viewer resonates with artworks are quite personal, that is to say, artworks have contingencies to impress anyone. Once it happens, the bosom friend will think about such artworks and even explore the intrinsic characteristics and disciplines from other similar works, then rises the thoughts or emotions conveyed by the works up to a theoretical level and blazes a trail for the spread of the artist’s concept. At the same time, the “bosom friend” will make a further reaction in communication with the artist, for example, visiting the artist’s studio and communicating with him face-to-face, so much so that to provide a grass-roots sponsorship. Through this action, the artist’s quite personal emotions will be shown to more viewers who have the same pursuit of value.

In summary, in the art field, “onlooker”, “reviewer” and “bosom friend “reflect the different appeals of three different kinds of viewers, their perceptions of artworks are not necessarily gradually increasing, but their competence to communicate with the artists are gradually deepened. Sometimes, the “onlooker” who has little experience but active emotional thinking can get more pleasure than the “reviewer”, occasionally, like the “bosom friend” be moved or shocked by the artworks. But “onlooker” is only “seeing”, he can’t bring about important feedback for the creation of the artist. From another point of view, artworks are an important ladder to success, for an artist, making “good-looking” works alone will no longer do. How to explore potential “reviewer” and “bosom friend” will be a subject for every artist.

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