Stephen Willats

The Reality of Relativity, 1974

If we think of an artwork as a means of communicating something in particular, then in practice what it communicates is more than often arbitrary, though how much depends on the degree of correspondence between the audience’s existing language, its frame of reference, and those of the artist. This results in the creation of varying amounts of ‘noise’ in the audience’s discreet perceptual loop-like relationship with the artwork.

In the absence of being able to achieve impossible insights into what the artist means, the audience starts attending to the ‘noise’ itself, and ending up reading their own message into it through creating their own mental associations. This factor couple with the absence of any interactive procedure, such as is implicit during two people having a conversation, that would enable an audience to piece together associations which correspond to the artist’s, constitutes a major failure of this way of operating in art, to affect social cognition. This is simply because the artist’s intention is rendered inaccessible and exclusive.


Printed in Society Through Art, Stephen Willats, Haags Centrum voor Aktuele Kunst, Den Haag, 1990