Last week we had to write a response to an excerpt from a book our instructor has been reading to us. This chapter specifically is dealing with leaving some of your artwork unfinished to leave it up to the imagination of the viewer. This is my response:
Art and Illusion Response
Where The Wild Things Are
There is quite a bit of merit to leaving some, or much, of your artwork to the imagination of the viewer. In much the same way as feeling disappointed in a movie after having read the book, receiving the imagery in its entirety takes away the viewer participation in the piece. I suppose this is why the art world often disparages realism. Because the imagery is there for you already, tied up nicely with a pretty bow and you don’t have to work at it. The interaction between the viewer and the artwork (and the artist) is the goal and one very good way to ensure that the viewer is doing their part is to leave room for their imagination to fill in the blanks.
We know from drawing class that just the slightest indication of crook of an elbow or bend in the knee is enough to indicate the human form and the positioning of the limbs. The mind will take these bread crumbs and follow the trail to a finished idea. We need to use the least amount of bait possible in order to “catch our prey.” Too much bait will just confuse the issue.
In psychology class we learned that people have preconceived ideas of how things should be. They call these “schemas.” For instance, we have an idea in our mind of what a kitchen looks like and what goes in it. Often it is very difficult to imagine and remember things that don’t coincide with our preconceived notion of how things ought to be. This, I think, is the one place where you wouldn’t want to leave too much to the imagination. If the viewer is filling in the blanks, they are relying on their schemas to provide the information for them. If you want to go against that, then you will have to spell it out a little more so that the viewer is led where you want them to go. The human mind will try very hard to find the familiar, the comfortable. The imagination may find images in the vague shadows, but the more logical processes of the mind reject those and look for a more prosaic explanation. It can be a task to dislodge the logical corner of the brain from its usual function.
That is, of course, one of the functions of the artist. The artist cultivates the imagination and tries to cage the logical mind so that it cannot control everything. Then the artist creates a space where the viewer can escape their cage and spend some time with their imagination. Teasing and cajoling, the artist lures the viewer out of their comfortable schema and into the place where the wild things are. Once you’ve ventured out into the wild and accustomed yourself to the scenery there, it can be very difficult to come back to the usual, the routine, the settlement.