03. Direct and Indirect Arts


“Time” is a topic on which thousands of pages have been written in philosophy and science. From a very broad perspective, one can say that there have been two main views of time:

The first view sees time as an independent entity with “… its own nature, [which] passes equably without relation to anything external, and thus without reference to any change or way of measuring of time …” (Rynasiewicz). From this standpoint, life is seen as getting on a boat on a river, travelling for a while, then beaching it and getting off. The river (time) was flowing before us and will keep flowing after us. Popular similes and metaphors mentioning time flying, flowing, going by, drifting, passing, etc. stem from this view.

There is another opinion (since the seventeenth century) which asserts that we are not the result of time but time is a result of us. We do not pass, fill, waste, take or give time, we create it. The sense of time is formed by the human mind through attributions of before-ness and after-ness to events, changes, things that happen (also called “nows”). Sense of time differs from person to person according to the circumstances determining his/her perception. Time is a mental and relative phenomenon. (McTaggart) When there is no memory to remember the events that have happened, then there is no sense of sequence and, therefore, of time.

In traditional aesthetics, arts are sorted into two groups: temporal and spatial, based on the first concept of time mentioned above.

The logic behind this separation is quite simple: in “spatial” art forms like painting, sculpture, photography, installation, there are concrete, visual objects or spaces physically manipulated or marked/framed by the artist. And, by analogy, it is considered that works of music, dance, theater, and film cover or fill an invisible “slice of time” with sound and/or movement. When it is said that music is the outfitting of a segment of time with sound, one imagines this process to be like painting a portion of an infinitely flowing canvas. I should note that these views focus on the production of a work of art, without much consideration about its transmission and perception.

Instead of temporal/spatial, I propose the grouping of works of art according to a different opposition: direct/indirect (with the second concept of time in mind).

This is how I arrive at this idea:

1.

It is impossible to separate time from space: one cannot conceive a timeless space or spaceless time. The sequences of sounds and/or movements occur or “take place” in space.

We see and/or hear the events as they happen in space, one after another, and we often break them up into “segments” by assigning points of beginning and ending. A presentation in the performing arts proposes that we accept an event as the beginning and another one as the end: the “piece” of music will begin with the first note to be heard from the flute and end with the last note to be played by all instruments in the ensemble – all other sounds that can be heard before, during and after are to be ignored and kept segregated from the sequence (segment).

For example, when it is announced that a man will give a talk at a certain place from 4 to 5 o’clock, the customary notion suggests that his speech will fill an independently existing slot of time, “when the time comes.” In actuality, the announcement indicates that the succession of the man’s words and many other events to take place during his speech will form a series or a sequence (one thing after another) of which later we will say “it took one hour, from 4 to 5 pm” by measuring with a device of our making, “the clock.” The events (“beats,” “changes,” “markers”) that form the segment consist of the sounds coming out of the man’s mouth as well as his gestures, the movements of the listeners, coughs, laughter, heart beats, breathings, comings and goings, the squeaking of chairs, sounds of people and cars coming from the street. The perceived succession of these events constitute the duration, the time.

2.

Every work of art is produced to be perceived. Perception by the viewer/listener is an indispensable part of the process. In that respect, it is inadequate to classify the works of art according to their production, overlooking the aspects of transmission and perception.

3.

Perception is a process and every process creates a duration, consisting of a sequence of events. It is impossible for a work of art (or for anything perceived) to be only spatial and not temporal (Gombrich, 50).

As a result of the above view points, I propose to group the arts as direct and indirect.

1. Direct Arts

Here I am talking about parties producing meaning for and sharing with each other: they achieve this through a sequence of reciprocal “events.” Reciprocity and, therefore, interdependence are the indispensable features in this interactive process which we call “live” or “real-time.”

The presenter and the perceiver don’t have to be face to face (there can be puppets, remote-controlled devices, sound from unseen sources in between), but the concept behind this category requires real-time interaction. In other words, the meaning is produced as being perceived and the sequence (segment of time) is built through give-and-takes between the presenter and the perceiver.

It may be said that interaction may not apply to theater or classical concert situations where the audience remains mostly passive except for laughing, clapping, wiggling or getting up and leaving. Yet, it is a fact that, even in the most traditional settings, there is always a big difference between performing with and without an audience. Even when there is no perceivable response from the audience, the information (signs) is presented with consideration or estimation of its perceptibility (signification, interpretation) and the tempo of perception. Moreover, interaction does not occur only between the performers and the audience, every person present in the venue interacts with each other: the performers or the musicians proceed according to each other as well and, similarly, the responses by the members of the audience are affected by each other.

2. Indirect Arts

With the word “indirect” I imply a physical intermediary (a manipulated (coded) object) between the presenter of the information and the perceiver, such as paper, fabric, wood, stone, computer, magnetic tape, vinyl record, CD, celluloid film, etc. “Indirect” indicates a process that involves a “vehicle” that transports the information from one side to the other. As I wrote above, it is possible to communicate “through” an entity (such as puppets) in direct arts but that entity has to be manipulated as the information is perceived. Here, I am talking about “recorded” information on intermediary entities for subsequent perception. An intermediary in between the presentation and perception of a work creates two separate processes and eliminates the direct interaction between the parties involved.

I think the intermediary “vehicles” in indirect arts can be examined in two groups:

2a. Static Intermediary

By “static,” I am basically pointing at intermediary entities that do not go through, incorporate or suggest any form of progress once completed.

For instance, the canvas containing a painting created and completed at the artist’s studio to be exhibited at a gallery is a typical static intermediary. The painter produces the work disconnected from the to-be beholders. The production may take him/her days or months or years, possibly at different locations. And, the “viewing process” of the beholders who will go to the gallery to see the painting will be completely disconnected from the production. Absence of interaction with the inanimate object will allow them to look at it anytime the gallery is open, as long as they want.

We do not hear anyone say “I entered an art gallery, there was a large painting on the wall, I began looking at it and got bored but couldn’t leave.” But we can hear something like “I was invited to an opening party at a gallery, I got so bored but, not to be rude, I couldn’t leave.” This is because the beholder looking at a painting builds the sequence that defines the perception process independently, by himself/herself, whereas the person at the party will be building the sequence together with others, through reciprocal events and perceptions in accordance with the established social codes and frames.

2b. Timelined Intermediary

What happens when there is a video screen on the wall of a gallery instead of a painting?

The products of the relatively new recording technologies (film, video, and recorded sound) and the product of the oldest technology, the written text, are produced to be perceived later, similar to a painting. And these, just like the static intermediaries, do not go through changes once their production is completed: they become finished products. The information is recorded on “vehicles” such as celluloid film, vinyl record, magnetic tape, optical disk, hard drive, solid state drive, paper, etc.

What differs from the statics is the timeline or sequence “contained” in these entities. Formation of the segment of time is carried out by the sequence recorded on the intermediary and the viewer/listener is expected to go along with it.

Similar to the beholder’s relationship with a painting, there is no interaction between the timelined intermediaries and the perceiver. No matter what you do in a movie theater, the movie continues to play as recorded. No matter what you do while listening to recorded music, you cannot inflict changes, because the intermediaries consist of lifeless objects which cannot respond to your actions. One is free to stop, rewind, fast forward, etc. but this does not constitute interaction with the work.

Writing, obviously, is not meant to be read while being written. The writer records his/her words on paper or some other medium to be read by readers at some “other time,” under different circumstances. When reading a book, one can stop and re-read a sentence five more times, take a break for a short or a long period and then go back to follow the progression in the book and none of these actions cause alterations in the content.

A sports competition on TV can be “live” or pre-recorded. The content itself does not allow one to figure it out, that is why they often write “live” in a corner of the screen. This is an “off-screen” information for the person watching the event at home. If the person does not know that the game was pre-recorded, s/he can very well watch it as a “real-time” event. The person cannot interact with or influence the screen.

We can look at it this way: Ontologically, watching a movie is identical to the action of watching a clock, listening to music is identical to listening to the ticking of a clock. Changing of visuals and sounds corresponds to the changes that take place on a clock per second. The difference is in the contents of the timelines, that is, repetition and monotony versus variation.

Traditionally “performing arts” are defined as “live” presentations of music, theater, dance, opera, circus, poetry reading, etc. before an audience. These belong to the category I have called “direct arts.” Again, traditionally, the word “performance” is used within the context of these art forms and we almost never encounter it in indirect arts (one might run into usages like “the actor’s performance in the movie”). Since this website consists of notes on the performing arts, our focus will naturally be on the direct arts. Yet, we should keep an eye on the arts that use timelined intermediaries, particularly in terms of their compositional features.