Build something in the physical world and the minute it’s used it starts to decay – scuffs, dents, chips. Drive a car off the new car lot and it immediately loses ten percent of its value. Use something a lot and eventually it wears out.
Art is different. A work of art gets more powerful when more people use it. Music that gives voice to people grows in meaning. A play that doesn’t get discussed stops getting produced.
If at least some of the power of art comes from the ways people choose to use it, to interact with it, to change and reinterpret it, then where does the act of art stop? When the artist launches it into the world?
I don’t think so.
Choosing to do something in response to a work of art can be a profoundly creative experience, one that extends or builds on the original work of art and makes it more powerful. If this is so, shouldn’t we extend the definition of art to include the kinds of response it evokes? We live in a culture now where sharing is the new default; it’s an expression of one’s identity. For many, the act of art is not complete until what was meaningful is shared with those who are meaningful to us.
The commercial culture world understands this and aggressively promotes sharing at every level. In the arts, not so much. In fact, many arts organizations actively discourage sharing, prohibiting the taking of pictures or recordings or tampering with original versions of art. There are plenty of good reasons for this. Plenty. But the fact is:
- if sharing is the new default in the broader culture, and if
- sharing is essential to the experience for many people and the arts aren’t allowing it (let alone encouraging it), and if
- sharing and using art is what gives it its currency out in the world…
then don’t we need to broaden our list of active collaborators to include the audience?