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Art, The Artist and Agency

An exploration of the relationship (or lack thereof) between artists and their art.

As an artist, I think I am just designed to gravitate towards the relationship between the artist and art. I often ponder what Art really means, in relationship to the artist? Is the art and artist one and the same? Is every work of art distinct, because every artist is distinct? Is every artist even distinct? This stream of thought can go on forever, but for the sake of keeping this concise, I’ll be focusing on the artists’ intentions and the individuality of their art.
Although many readers might argue that art and the artist are inherently connected, I argue against this notion. I believe the relationship between the art and artist is much more layered and multifaceted. As artists, we must be able to embrace the subjectivity within art, so that we can sincerely engage with art. And in order to do that, we must first set out to dissociate the art from its artist.
This is possible through the recognition of the notion of agency and influence, where agency is the art’s ability to be independent of its artist and influence refers to the artist’s ability to convey meaning through the art.
Agency is the power to connect, to connect independently of the artist. However, it should be noted that agency is dependent on the viewer. Agency is the implementation of the character of the viewer onto the art. Therefore, as an art’s agency is limitless and varies from person to person, it is volatile. And if we were to suppose the artist as the internal, we can assume that any person beyond the artist is the external world. And through its dependency to the external world, art paradoxically becomes independent of the internal. Critical readers will be able to recognize and associate this concept to reader-response criticism. Reader-response criticism is a critical school suggesting that the reader’s experience and consumption of the media are essential to validate the art. Essentially, agency’s limitless potential is not purely within the art, but within the viewer.
Influence is when the Viewer must acknowledge the role of the artist. Influence is examined through the artist’s intentions — when they have a set goal and use all the conventions of their art form to convey a specific story or emotion.
As I am most familiar with film and its conventions, I will use that medium as an example (though you, my dear reader, are free to reflect this on to a different art form). One notable example is Stanley Kubrick’s way of conveying mental derangement, in which the character tilts their head down and looks up beneath the eyebrows. This film technique had become so recognizable, that it had become an unwritten rule for filmmakers to utilize the Kubrick Stare to symbolize mental derangement.
It should be noted that the two ideas are not antithetical to each other, and the consumption of art should not be placed into a binary. Once again, I want to reiterate the subjectivity of art. Agency and influence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to some degree, agency can be predicted through influence. But it should be noted, agency is not dependent on influence.
To give another film example: Let’s assume that a director directed a movie concerning the emotion of grief, and the viewer connects with that story because of their own real life experiences. This is when influence and agency merge — the artist has an intention of conveying feelings of grief, the viewer has experienced grief and is thus reflecting those feelings onto the movie. By reciprocating the feelings of the movie, by synergizing with it, the viewer is able to appreciate the movie more. Additionally, through agency, we can also consider the possibility that the viewer can apply more feelings than the artist has intended.
I believe every artist should consider the autonomy of their art. Once you, the artist, release art into the world, it lives a life of its own and has its own control and agency. And that life is shaped by the audience. You don’t have to defend your art, you don’t need the validation, because you CAN’T defend it and you CAN’T validate it. You can explain your influence, but beyond that your art’s agency transcends you and you cannot affect it in any way shape, or form. There’s a bigger comment on how every human is unique and idiosyncratic, and by attempting to challenge art’s agency, you’re attempting to refute a concept beyond our own comprehension. But what do I know?
Special thanks to Hassan and his manager for helping me coordinate my thoughts.
Mohammed Alhammadi is a Columnist. Email them at
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