Terms and strategies of engagement: perspectives on constructing meaning and value in contemporary art

Diamond, A., 2006. Terms and strategies of engagement: perspectives on constructing meaning and value in contemporary art. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Contemporary art is made meaningful by the discourses that mediate practice, which also renders the physicality of the work less significant. By combining references, artefacts or concepts, artists can claim to be drawing attention to pertinent issues. Yet through intentional ambiguity, the work remains open to unlimited meanings. Given the lack of consistent structures to guide meaning making, audiences might be left unable to construct a coherent understanding of the work and its value.

By drawing upon a selection of historical and theoretical discussions of contemporary art, the context for this research is outlined. Work from economic theory, organisational and knowledge management studies, psychoanalysis, sociology, linguistics and social theory provide additional models for new ways of thinking about art's context. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with contemporary artists, art critics, an art historian, a gallery owner, an arts journalist and an art journal editor. Interview analysis revealed three key themes that were reflected in the contextual review: The social roles of those within the field, the construction of meaning by the field and the socio-economic values associated with contemporary art.

The findings suggest that the field of contemporary art can be conceived as a game, with artists employing strategic rules of engagement in order to succeed. Measures of success are dependant upon the artists' objectives and vary according to the scene in which their practice is located. Engagement in the field or game is dependant upon adoption of a belief structure, that allows one to challenge the beliefs of others outside the game, but does not allow for a refusal to play or a challenge to the game itself The artists are less interested in defining a critical theoretical position for themselves, and focus their efforts on pitching and gaining visibility.

The respondents generally disparaged notions of aesthetics, signification and visual intelligence, leaving them even more dependant upon mediating discourses. Detached from aesthetic signifiers, art's reifying discourses allow it to be experienced in a particular way, so long as one is willing to commit to learning the language. As art appears grounded in nothing other than itself, players in the field require confidence to determine arts meaning and value. Struggles occur for control of the discourses that mediate contemporary art practice and enable strategic position taking. To further confound matters, artists do not always intend these discourses or their practices to be coherent or understood.

As the number of scenes or communities within the contemporary art world multiplies, the discourses employed to mediate contemporary art practices also proliferate. This results in the diminishing possibility of establishing a meaningful encounter with much contemporary art.

The increasing irrelevance of aesthetics to the dialogues of contemporary artists means an outstanding challenge also remains: is there a viable model for the judgement of quality within contemporary art practice. Furthermore, we may need to scrutinise why artists might produce art which is intended to dismantle that which binds human experience and which makes understanding impossible through the evasion of meaningful signifiers.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Diamond, A.
Date: 2006
ISBN: 9781369316315
Divisions: Schools > School of Art and Design
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 28 Sep 2020 14:03
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2023 09:38
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/40985

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