Sometimes I watch people interact with works of art. This can be especially interesting with highly abstract work which thwarts those who try to gain access to content by beginning with recognition of the familiar as a way in. Eyes widen and narrow under adjusting brows. Heads tilt, lean in, or turn away. I wish viewers would literally engage in dialogue with the artwork before them. Let’s imagine two viewers, each looking at such a work and speaking to it.
Human: Hmm… "I don’t know what you are."
Human: "I’d like to understand you, to be nearer to you, but I don’t know how to proceed. Oh well, on to the next piece."
Human: "Hmm… I don’t know what you are."
Human: "I’d like to understand you, to be nearer to you, but I don’t know how to proceed. I’ll linger with you a moment longer anyway."
Art: [Still silent, the artwork thinks] "If you really care to understand me, I trust you will prove this. If you get tired of standing in silence with me, you may return some other time. I’ll be here, waiting for you to wait on me. Stand before me as you would before a doe in the wilderness. Be still and quiet, and wait for her to come to you on her own terms. If you insist on meeting according to your usual way and pace, then you’re not really interested in the one you’d meet, but in what you want. If you move towards her in that way, she will recognize you as a kind of predator and vanish."
Human: "You still say nothing to me. I’m growing impatient. I don’t know that this is worth the time and effort I’m spending here. You won’t even tell me whether I should stick around a bit longer. You promise nothing. I could ask someone else about what they thought about you, but I want to see what there is to see for myself."
Art: [Still silent, the artwork thinks] "All you make are statements. I wish you would ask some questions. If you are genuinely interested in understanding another of your kind, do you walk up to them and make statements? Do you, with a sense of entitlement, expect immediate intimacy? What does any of that have to do with opening yourself to the other?"
Human: "My desire to “get” what you are all about has revealed nothing beyond your unchanging superficial face. Actually, that came to me at first glance, at the speed of light bouncing off of you and into my eyes. We were both passive in that. Not much of an interaction, really. I can’t figure you out. What if what matters about our interaction doesn’t have anything to do with my interest in gaining knowledge about you?"
Human: [sigh]… "It’s quiet here."
Art: [faintly] "Hello."
Human: "Just then, when I took a break from trying to get something out of this interaction, I thought I heard your voice. Alright, I’m ready to accept whatever you’re up for sharing with me at this time. You can even wait ‘till later if you want, or just keep to yourself. I’m no longer in a hurry. I like just standing here with you."
Art: "Now that you have become a listener, I am ready to speak…"
About the Artist
John Chwekun was born in San Diego in 1980. He received a B.A. in applied design at SDSU in 2002. After attending residencies at Watershed and The Clay Art Center, he went on to earn an MFA in ceramics from Cranbrook in 2007. He currently makes art, teaches ceramics and sculpture, hybridizes succulents, and pets his dog in his hometown