Stephen Willats

A State of Agreement, 1976

Adapted from: Life Codes and Behaviour Parameters, Stephen Willats, Nottingham 1976

The increasingly pluralistic and fluid nature of present society has rendered the relationship between a theoretically purposeful art, and a practical operational one, dependent on the adoption of ideologies and methodologies, that embody relativism as a positive cognitive variable. This is especially pertinent to the externalisation of art, ie. beyond the institutional confines of art’s social environment. Such an externalisation would envisage art as a purposeful agent establishing the means by which a person constructs their own cognitive representations of the world. This cognition reflecting in the inherent relativism within an increasingly richly connected complex society. In this sense the context-tied rationing of peoples’ perception is not just seen as a strategic consideration. The artist should consider relativism as being central to ideology.

However, relativism introduces problems for the artist concerning the meaning and purpose of art practice in society. For the artist to consider X is meaningful for other people to receive is to imply that it has, or could have, further inferences on their X or some Y. Here the ultimate meaning of X is subject to the relevance it has to the observer, what X infers about Y being a product of the connections they made between them. Y here is the dependent variable, and is conditional upon the priorities or connections the observer is able to bring to bear on X. In other words, how they choose, or are able to view X within the structure of Y’s held as part of their frame of reference. Thus two people viewing the same X might refer to different worlds on Y’s, the resultant priorities given to attention being dependent on the inferences it has for meanings established within those worlds. Underlying these differences in the world of Y’s are common structures in the form of parameters that determine their formation. A parameter is a fundamental nodel construct that underlies a system. Stemming from a parameter is a derivative structure that determines the various external forms a system takes. Thus, though the way in which a person might greet another person its coding might vary from context to context, but the function of a greeting remains the same, acting as a parameter from which various forms of coded behaviour derive.

The area of attention that is held is pertinent to the question of the function of art practice, involves the underlying parameters of social behaviour, and, as such, has intended implications that extend the artist’s concerns directly into our societal state. This function envisages the artist forwarding conceptualisations concerning relationships between the parameters that underlie different social behaviours and the coding structures that derive from those parameters. The codings formalise the conventions and norms within society, the way in which they are manifest reflects the nature of those relationships that exist in different contexts. The artist forwards the means by which transformations of those coding structures can be made, so that people can articulate into coherent models related perceptions about the ramifications for those transformations on their own behaviour.

In forming such models they are then in a position to relate the artist’s presented situation back to a social parameter, from this they can contextualise the inferences that they make for themselves. The audience is able to make inferences towards disparate related structures more readily than from just looking at the outface of coded behaviour.

In this way the artist directly embodies the audience’s world of references in their art practice and as a result is able to widen considerably the nature of the audience’s composition. For instead of presenting a preferred view, ie. presuming that the artist’s links between X and Y will be seen as meaningful by the audience, the artist externalises the idea of relativism, and the ultimately context dependency of art work. The artist directs the audience’s attention towards X, and provides them with the means to view it through a transformative framework, but does not legislate a right or wrong, good or bad interpretation, in the sense that there are a specified set of links to pre-determined Y’s. X is presented and the means are made available to link it to a Y like Y, the inferences that are made from X, being those Y’s that the audience can bring to bear from their own world of reference.