Exercise 1: Thinking about time and place…
…is overwhelming. Both terms carry much philosophical weight and an endless web of possible meaning. While we can’t exist outside of their meaning and refer to them constantly and confidently, we hardly know what they are.
I used some basic diagrams to map out my initial thoughts about time and place. Most of my thinking about these terms is personal, anecdotal and/or couched in clichés.
How do these concepts guide our visual reading?
To answer this question, I took a cue from the course binder and went to a small Bernard Buffet exposition in my neighbourhood. The themes of time and place worked themselves naturally into my intepretation of about a quarter of the works on display. I do think one can draw out those themes–or their opposites–by seeking them out, but I enjoy art most when I’m not forcing myself to “understand” it a certain way. As it happens, we only ever want to understand the work that speaks to or fascinates us, which itself is probably a small part of what we’re exposed to.
We experience both classical and contemporary art based on familiar signs and codes: do I recognize this setting? What does the medium say about the artist’s process or objectives? If there are figures, what are they doing? How are they dressed? What do their expressions suggest about their feelings or interactions?
Codes and signs change over time; it’s our knowledge of these systems that inform our understanding of art. For me, these references seem more obvious in classical art.
Time is the common, overarching umbrella-like system by which the Western world seems to accept and measure our movement across a lifetime. Art that isn’t concerned with time is at least situated within it.
Place tends to be more tangible and allows us to move beyond the moment being described and map our understanding, both literally and/or figuratively. Place can evoke culture, narrative, themes, mood. It can be as specific as a belly-button, as vast as the Canadian wilderness or as abstract as a passing thought. Whatever it is, place is a key consideration as we attempt to understand art: if the work doesn’t have an exact location, how does it occupy space? What about the viewer? Meaning comes from the intersection of all of these.