Thursday, May 18, 2017

Art Is Immortality - Why Artists Never Die

It's fascinating how the words "art" and "immortality" often stand close to each other. We speak of art that is immortal and the immortal fame of artists. And though this may sound like mere rhetoric, art and immortality actually are linked very closely. Because, in a way, art is suited for communication with people long dead.

The most realistic way to become immortal is to create art.

There are true words of wisdom said by the therapist, psychologist, communications theorist and philosopher Paul Watzlawick:

"One cannot not communicate."

Communication is behaviour, and behaviour doesn't have an opposite. What doesn't have an opposite doesn't have gradations. One can't say a person is more or less communicative than another, because even if a person hides from the rest of the world and never says a word, this person still permanently communicates that they don't want to interact with anybody.

Communication is an inherent part of life. We constantly send messages, some of them being verbal and others nonverbal. We're either communicative or dead. Nothing in between.

And since art is very much about behaviour and putting information into signs, we can doubtlessly say:

Art Is Communication

Communication is, in the first place, an exchange of information. There is a sender who encodes a message, and there's a receiver who decodes it. This is how the Shannon–Weaver model, the "mother of all models", explains it.

This communication model can also be applied to creation and reception of art. The artist tries to say or express something and encodes it into a story or a painting or a sculpture or a song. The audience then decodes it.

However, every single receiver in the audience is different and thus decodes the artwork differently. This is why one and the same artwork can have opposite meanings in the eyes of two different people. Nobody except for the artist himself can know for sure what the artist's message was, but everybody knows there was a message sent by a particular person.

Thousand Faces of an Artist

Every person in the audience understands an artwork differently, and so everybody has a different image of the sender, i.e. the respective artist. Every new receiver creates a new version of the artist in his head, and slowly but surely every artist ends up with countless doppelgangers sitting in the minds of his audience.

In literary studies, we have the term implied author. First introduced by Wayne C. Booth, it describes the image of the author the reader creates in his head as he reads the author's text. And, if you ask me, what's true for literature is also true for other art forms: Every reception of art comes along with the creation of new implied artist.

Audience Grants Immortality

Of course, the implied artist is merely a reflection. He should never ever be confused with the real artist who can be quite the opposite of the image in your head. But, in a way, the real artist does communicate with you through the implied artist. It usually doesn't happen intentionally, as the artist most likely doesn't even know you exist, but you do receive the artist's message, his artwork, and so you do communicate with a person you believe the artist to be, i.e. the implied artist.

To perceive art - be it by reading a novel or by listening to a song on the radio - means to communicate with somebody who isn't there. And so this person doesn't even need to be physically alive. Personally I have learned very much from dead people I never had the chance to meet. They've helped me dealing with some serious issues in my life, and by communicating with them I've learned very much about myself. They weren't there, but we did have some great conversations.

So my conclusion is: An artist lives as long as he has an audience. And this can be even long after his death. So the most realistic way to become immortal is to create art. If you're reading this blog, this is most likely exactly what you do. Congratulations! ;)

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