The Art of Discourse

Art appreciation can be a deeply personal, transformative experience. The different themes embodied in the work might meet a visitor on a minutely relatable level, or the visitor might have some sort of transcendental realization. Regardless of the magnitude of the emotional response, the discussion of artwork—especially in a casual sense—tends to be superficial. When I’ve gone to various galleries and exhibitions with my friends, the depths of our conversations regarding the art has been limited to a discussion of aesthetics: “I like how the artist…” and “This piece reminds me of…” are phrases that dominate my conversations within such artistic spaces. Talking about our emotions is largely ignored, and we would rather show off our ability to analyze what the artist is trying to say. Some might argue that there is a time and a place for such deeply affecting discussions, yet this interpretation discounts the very real impact that art can have on our everyday lives. Especially regarding the relevant social and political themes of the Stamp Gallery’s current show, Black Maths, these conversations must happen beyond the scope of aesthetic analysis.

I’d like to share my personal reaction to Adam Holofcener’s sound installation, Upresting, as an example. After spending a considerable amount of time with this piece, my emotions have ranged from uncertainty to empowerment. I am uncertain because the sounds of protest do not loop in a predictable pattern, and because I cannot anticipate the chanting or the screaming or the silence, I experience a loss of control. I am at the mercy of the work, and that is personally terrifying. This fear subsided, however, when I discovered the interactive aspect of Upresting: the microphone. I learned that my voice is amplified in the simulated multitudes and that my contribution has an audible (if only fleeting) impact on the sound. My voice became powerful, yet I had to continue to speak lest my voice faded away into the crowd.


For me, experiencing Upresting has given me the opportunity to admit my fears and embrace my voice, yet this personal sentiment is not easily relatable to others. I try to take these emotions home and discuss with my roommates, but often my words are as scattered as my thoughts. People are afraid to engage in these conversations because they fear either their interpretations are wrong or that they won’t be able to present their emotions cohesively. That is not the point of discussion. The point of entering artistic discourse—especially on such a personal level—is to work out the jumble of thoughts and emotions into something more cohesive. The uncertainty we might feel after taking in an art piece isn’t to be avoided, but celebrated. So I urge to engage in the discussion in any manner you like: express yourself creatively, take time to sit and talk with friends, write a blog post.

If a work of art makes a statement that affects you, the least you could do is respond.

Written by Christopher Bugtong


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