ISBN-10:
0226040844
ISBN-13:
9780226040844
Pub. Date:
05/15/2006
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Art from Start to Finish: Jazz, Painting, Writing and Other Improvisations

Art from Start to Finish: Jazz, Painting, Writing and Other Improvisations

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Overview

When is an artistic work finished? When the copyeditor makes the final correction to a manuscript, when the composer writes the last note of a symphony, or when the painter puts the last brushstroke on the canvas? Perhaps it's even later, when someone reads the work, when an ensemble performs, or when the painting is hung on a gallery wall for viewing?

Art from Start to Finish gathers a unique group of contributors from the worlds of sociology, musicology, literature, and communications—many of them practicing artists in their own right—to discuss how artists from jazz musicians to painters work: how they coordinate their efforts, how they think, how they start, and, of course, how they finish their productions.

Specialists in the arts have much to say about the works themselves, which are often neglected by scholarsi n other fields. Art from Start to Finish takes a different tack by exploring the creative process itself and its social component. Any reader who makes art or has an interest in it will value this book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226040844
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/15/2006
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Howard S. Becker is the author of several books, including, most recently, Tricks of the Trade, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Robert R. Faulkner is professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is the author of Music on Demand and Hollywood Studio Musicians.Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is professor of performance studies at New York University. She is the author of Destination Culture.

Read an Excerpt

Art from Start to Finish

Jazz, Painting, Writing, and Other Improvisations


THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-04085-1



Chapter One

The Work Itself

HOWARD S. BECKER

What does it mean to speak of the "work of art itself"? What are we distinguishing it from by adding the qualifier "itself"? I suppose that when we say this we are pointing to the difference between the work of art seen merely as a signifier of something else, which is not art, and the work of art as a thing to be appreciated in itself and for itself, for what it is just by existing. Sociologists, from this point of view, might be said to "reduce" the work of art to something less than itself, to something that merely reflects or contains something else. The "something else," presumably, is some thing sociologists are more at home with: social classes or races or organizations or institutions or "worlds of art." (The word "merely" in the formula I stated above indicates, as it usually does in philosophical and aesthetic discourse, that if that were what a work of art was, it would be something less than what it might be or actually is when properly seen.)

When we ask ourselves, as social scientists, to speak about the "work itself," we ask ourselves totread on ground that, in a conventional academic division of labor, belongs to other disciplines. Musicologists (some of them, sometimes) devote themselves to the analysis of works of music "in themselves." Art critics and literary analysts (some of them, sometimes) devote themselves to works of visual and literary art "in themselves." And so on. Every art has its dedicated specialists, some of whom sometimes explain, interpret, and analyze the "work itself."

Analyses of artworks typically take one of two forms. On the one hand, analysts and critics look to the internal structure of a work, to the nature of its constituent elements and their interrelations, searching for patterns of harmony, tension, and resolution that are interesting, engaging (perhaps even engrossing), and emotionally moving. On the other hand, they look to the way the work explores questions of emotional and philosophical significance. Very often, of course, they are concerned with both at once: with the way the formal elements of a work and their arrangement lead the user (consumer? reader? listener? viewer?) to experience important emotional and philosophical truths in a way that is simultaneously intellectual and emotional.

When we ask ourselves to speak, as social scientists, about the "work itself," what do we have in mind that is not already done by the adepts of some other field of scholarship? I suppose that what is meant is that sociologists too should explore just these questions of formal pattern and emotional and philosophical significance and add something analysts from other disciplines have left out, something that sociological concepts and ways of thinking produce that has hitherto been lacking. What could that be?

Sociology can certainly do some necessary preliminary work in this area. A first job is to make clear that the very idea of the "work itself" is empirically suspect for many well-known reasons. The authors of the works make many versions of the same thing. Sometimes these versions are treated as separate works, as when a visual artist makes many sketches and paintings of what seems to be "essentially" the same subject, as Menger explains in the case of Rodin's sculptural practice (see chapter 2 in this volume). But very often these varying versions are treated as variants from which the one "authentic" work must be extracted. So editors try to create the definitive text of Proust's work or of an opera Verdi had revised many times for performances in various houses or for performances by different singers.

It is, of course, worse than that, most clearly in the performing arts. What constitutes the "work itself" in the case of a musical composition? Is it the score as prepared by the composer and, perhaps, vouched for by scholars as being the authentic real work as the composer intended it? Or is it the work as created in performance by players or singers? And if the latter, is some particular performance the work itself? Or is every performance to be taken separately as a work in itself? Does the same hold for performances of works for the theater, where stagings of the same play differ widely, as do performances of the same staging?

I could multiply examples endlessly, but it isn't necessary. I mean only to indicate the empirical reality that lies behind what we could call the Principle of the Fundamental Indeterminacy of the Artwork. That is, it is impossible, in principle, for sociologists or anyone else to speak of the "work itself" because there is no such thing. There are only the many occasions on which a work appears or is performed or read or viewed, each of which can be different from all the others.

Many people would say that this is sophistry. After all, these various versions are "fundamentally" or "essentially" the same thing, the same physical (or abstract) object, even though there may be "slight" variations from time to time. This could best be argued, perhaps, in the case of such physical objects as paintings or sculptures. Well-known counterexamples lie in wait for anyone who makes this argument: the Greek sculptures that once were painted but are now just white marble; the Renaissance paintings whose layers of varnish have darkened so that the paintings are quite different in color and mood than they once were. The profession of art restorer rests on the recognition that physical objects change and can even be said to deteriorate. I put that tentatively because in some cases the physical changes are intended, as when a sculptor uses a metal that will acquire a patina that is different from its original color. So objects are never the same, any more than performances or editions are. They vary.

Whether the variation in objects or performances is to be taken seriously is another matter. Are the differences from moment to moment, version to version, "fundamental" or only "slight" and "immaterial"? This is not merely a philosophical conundrum or a sociological caprice. If the artwork is fundamentally indeterminate, people will have problems dealing with it. They will not be sure when it exists and when it doesn't, won't know what its form and nature are, won't be able to talk about it (after all, which version are we discussing?). They (and therefore we) can only distinguish the "work itself" by invoking some convention as to what-which of the many forms it takes from moment to moment-counts as the "real," "basic" work and which kinds of variation don't matter, don't interfere with the "fundamental" or "essential" character of the "work itself." This is the kind of shared understanding social scientists recognize under a variety of names: culture, norm, shared understanding, etc.

Sociology tells us that the choice of such conventions is not arbitrary. Individual actors choose them on particular occasions, but they do not choose them arbitrarily or individually. Rather, they choose in context, in the course of their participation in the social organization of the world in which works of that kind are made. Typically, the conventions competent members of an art world use to decide when an artwork is the "same" and when it is "different" are collective, the ones other competent participants in that world use.

How does such an organized world of art choose conventions in general, as opposed to an individual choosing them for an occasion? It is a mistake, of course, to imagine that the world, acting as a collectivity, necessarily makes a deliberate choice of the conventions that make Version A the "real" or "authentic" one and other versions not. But not always a mistake, since the choice of conventions sometimes is made just that way, as when the ultimate holders of power in a place like Hollywood decide what the "final cut" of a film will be. Others may not like their decision but recognize that when the studio that has ultimate control, or the director whose contract gives him that power, says this is the final version, that is the final version, though other versions may exist in fact or potentially.

Control of the choice of what constitutes the "work itself" is seldom monopolized this way. More typically, many people have something to say about the decision; in principle, all of the people who participate in making the work have some effect on the final choice of the "work itself." Everyone who participates has, depending on the circumstances, some influence, and the general choice of the convention by which works will be recognized results from a political process that is continuous and never settled for good.

The consumers of the work also share in its production. The work has no effect unless people see it or hear it or read it and they do that in various ways, again depending on the social organization of the world in which the work is made. People with different training will read and experience a work differently. People at different stages of their own lives will read and experience a work differently. They will see or hear or read it under varying circumstances, which affect what the work "is." A symphonic work sounds different in different halls on different nights, a painting looks different in different settings and under different light, the effect of a literary work is influenced by the typography and paper it is composed of. And works will be different for people of different ages, genders, classes, emotional states. The "work itself" may not be different, but the work the viewer takes in may well be.

All this is well known. But it is also easily forgotten when we start theorizing. So the first contribution of sociology to an understanding of the "work itself" is the recognition, which should be incorporated into everything else an analyst says, that a work takes many forms and that the "work itself" is isolated only by virtue of a collective act of definition. This means that what the work is, while in no way arbitrary, is subject to great variation and can never be settled definitively in some way that is dictated by its physical nature. This is the full meaning of the Principle of the Fundamental Indeterminacy of the Artwork I announced above.

The recognition of the indeterminacy of the work is a contribution sociology can make to the understanding of artworks but it is, of course, a negative contribution. It doesn't get to the heart of the work itself, of what matter it deals with and how it deals with it, of what emotions and ideas are provoked by contemplation of the work-in short, this theory doesn't get to what we would want to get to if we analyzed the work itself instead of talking about its setting.

Here I think a sociology of art, conceived as I have conceived it, at least, can contribute an analytic approach that goes to the heart of what a work of art is. You could call it a genetic approach, since it focuses on how the work is made (and, of course, remade), on the process by which it takes shape, on a step-by-step understanding of how the work came to the form it has when the analysis is undertaken (including an appreciation of all the various forms the work has taken and might yet take).

Such a genetic approach is not unique to sociology, of course. Musicologists prize those scores that bear the marks of the composer's compositional process-sketches, alternative versions, revisions-as sources of insight into the structure and meaning of a musical composition. Literary analysts similarly prize the manuscripts of novels, stories, and plays which show-in what has been changed, deleted, added-the various ways the author had considered constructing the plot, the alternative descriptions of the same person or place that had been considered, the varying placement of the same narrative elements. Analysts particularly love marked-up proofs the author went over and sent back to the printer, and especially those from the days when publishers allowed authors to rewrite their books extensively in proof.

Analysts love such evidences of how the work was done, because the choice the author or composer finally made from the field of possibilities such documents reveal can be taken to indicate what intention motivated the work's making. And that tells us, in the conventions accepted in many art worlds, what the work's ultimate meaning is, what the "work itself" is.

And here I have finally mentioned the word I would make central to a sociological analysis of artistic works: "choice." I first learned to appreciate this work and the idea behind it when I took classes in photography in 1970. The teacher who most influenced me, Philip Perkiss, refused to let us treat anything in our picture as beyond our control. Instead, he pointed out that we had always had the choice to do something differently: stand somewhere else, wait until another moment, use a different lens, a different aperture, a different shutter speed, to name just a few of the most obvious choices photographers make, wittingly or not, every time they make a picture. And, let's remember, too, the choices made by the people in the image (whether and how they would react to being photographed), and by the people who made the film (and thus limited what could be done) and the paper on which the image is printed, and so on. The photographic work itself, the resulting picture, is the consequence of all those choices.

I learned the same lesson when I studied theater communities in the United States and spent a lot of time with theater people. Actors, directors, and others often spoke, approvingly or disapprovingly, of the "choices" someone had made: how he had chosen to read a line, how she had chosen to walk across the stage, the pauses the director had called for, or the details of scenery and costume. The show playgoers see results from all these people making all these choices, millions of tiny choices that add up to the total effect on playgoers.

Any work of art can thus profitably be seen as a series of choices: the choice of which word or note to put next in my poem or song; the choice of which way the plot of the story should go; the choice of a color to load the brush with and where on the canvas to put that next spot of color; the choice of an inflection in the reading of a line in a play; the choice of the phrasing of a musical idea. As someone composes a work or makes a painting, as they perform a work on stage or in the concert hall, everything they do constitutes a choice. The choice could always have been made differently and everyone who works in these trades knows what the range of possibilities was and what might have motivated the particular choice that was finally made. Even if many or most of the choices are made in a conventional or routine way, they are still choices. Making routine choices gives a work a certain character, making unusual choices another character. Almost all works of art and performances of them and readings of them are some combination of routine and unusual choices among available possibilities.

This opens the way to a kind of sociological analysis of the "work itself," even though the fundamental indeterminacy of the work makes clear that we can do that only by virtue of an arbitrary choice of a moment and state of the work that could itself have been made differently. A full understanding of any work means understanding what choices were made and from what range of possibilities they were made, things commonly known by practitioners of an art. These choices are made in a complicated social context, in an organized world of artistic activity which constrains the range of choices and provides motives for making one or another of them. Sociological analysis of that context is well-equipped to explain the constitution of the range of possibilities and the conditions that surrounded, and thus might explain, the actual choices made.

Imagine an artist who is free to choose anything at all: a composer who could choose any kind of sound that it is possible to make with any kind of instrument or voice, any arrangement of any number of tones between the octaves (from, say, five to forty-two, to stay with numbers of scale tones that have actually been used), any kind of composition of any conceivable length. Keep that extreme case in mind and now consider an actual work created by real people, who work under all the constraints of an existing art world. Although the sociological analysis of that world will not reveal all the secrets of a particular composition or performance, it will tell us a lot about what the performer or composer did, why they did it that way, and what the likely effect on audiences with a particular training and background might be.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Art from Start to Finish Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Stanley Katz

Preface by Howard S. Becker, Robert R. Faulkner, and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
 
Editor's Introduction: Art from Start to Finish by Howard S. Becker, Robert R. Faulkner, and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

1. The Work Itself
Howard S. Becker

2. Profiles of the Unfinished: Rodin's Work and the Varieties of Incompleteness
Pierre-Michel Menger

3. "How do I know I am Finnish?" The Computer, the Archive, the Literary Artist, and the Work as Social Object
Michael Joyce

4. Shedding Culture
Robert R. Faulkner

5. What Is What I Do
Scott Deveaux

6. Grasping Shona Musical Works: A Case Study of Mbira Music
Paul Berliner

7. Economic Analysis and Steps toward Completing the Work
Richard E. Caves

8. The Fragment Itself
Larry Gross

9. Object / Shadows—Notes on a Developing Art Form
Larry Kagan

10. "This is a stone from the endless beach": An Interview with Max Gimblett
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

11. Art Works
Michael D. Harris

12. Wallace Stevens's Jar
Bruce Jackson

List of Contributors
Index

Recipe

When is an artistic work finished? When the copyeditor makes the final correction to a manuscript, when the composer writes the last note of a symphony, or when the painter puts the last brushstroke on the canvas? Perhaps it's even later, when someone reads the work, when an ensemble performs, or when the painting is hung on a gallery wall for viewing?

Art from Start to Finish gathers a unique group of contributors from the worlds of sociology, musicology, literature, and communications—many of them practicing artists in their own right—to discuss how artists from jazz musicians to painters work: how they coordinate their efforts, how they think, how they start, and, of course, how they finish their productions.
Specialists in the arts have much to say about the works themselves, which are often neglected by scholars in other fields. Art from Start to Finish takes a different tack by exploring the creative process itself and its social component. Any reader who makes art or has an interest in it will value this book.

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