Two important questions about art history’s relation to art education are: “when is a work of art complete?” and “how did an artwork get entangled within a single framework?” The former is a philosophical quest, unanswerable, similar to the questions of life, life after death, eternal quest through art; and the like. The latter is very history-specific. In other words, how, why and when did a diptych come to exist? In its essence, the incompleteness of a diptych is addressed through a second frame. One might hasten to liken a diptych and triptych to a comic strip, but the difference is more obvious than the similarities.
A comic strip spreads a visual narration all through all its frames, as if the essence of a single image is framed in multiple fragments. A diptych and a triptych serve the first and the first-second frames incomplete, respectively, wherein the second and the third frame are held to conclude. The completion happens in a reverse order as well, wherein a clockwise-view is equivalent to the anti-clockwiseness, since artwork can evoke experiences, not meaning. Only few artworks indicate the movement across its own imagery; otherwise, lateral movements are an added perks contained ‘within’ an artwork. The information –like in a map or verbal information – is metaphorically a surface above the abyss of experience ‘of’ an artwork! Clement Greenberg’s differentiation between the pre-modern and modern art as the difference between the focus upon the depth and the surface seems like a desperate attempt to equate the author(ity)-suggested-meaning with an abyss called artistic experience!
One could endlessly and ceaselessly elaborate on the inability of a single frame to contain an artwork in such cases, contesting the ‘one frame-one work’ configuration. A sequel/prequel to a movie or a novel shares such a dilemma as well. Historically, a single frame artwork actually intended to become mobile and could literally exchange hands, willing to be commoditized, since colonisation. The colonial project to ‘move’ image was to ‘move’ the pre-colonial attitude to religiously-aesthetically ‘move’ the familiar audience.
But an argument that non-single-frame artworks resist commodification (as in religious murals on worshipful places, manuscript illustrations, books and the like) is a falsity, if one considers the popularity of, say, the activities at Vatican, for instance, due to the effect of religious-cultural-tourism (as against at what happens at Louvre). A framed artwork to a church mural, by attitude, is analogous to the relation that an animal has with a tree – the latter can be moved only to be stationed elsewhere. Physical shift of an artwork has the precondition of the necessity for being framed. Unfortunately, once framed is a negation of site-specific character of an image which is artificial in nature. This historicl migration of an artwork from its actual site, to a seemingly eternal sitelessness is called framing artworks.
Thus, the colonial period owes the credibility of ‘converting’ an artwork from an ‘act’ to an ‘object’.Commodification demands objectification of an idea; never the other way round. When there is an attempt to convert the idea of a ‘Readymade’, for instance, into commodification, the object is empowered only with the power to repetition –destroying the uniqueness of framing. A readymade, twice, is a simulation of that which is not original, that defies the question of a ‘completed artwork’ in the form of an object. The loss of certain respectability of manual labour a la the Marxian ‘work’-of-art utopia, is the beginning for a different way to ‘erase’ both the question of ‘a completed state of an artwork’ and ‘imprisoning of a work within a frame’.
Hence Readymade, as an artwork, is the beginning point of infinitely unsuccessful attempts to define or grasp it as ‘A’ work of art, like touching the horizon line. To shorten an elaborate dialogue, did the single-frame-artwork segregate religious-tourism from aesthetic-tourism; and are diptych and triptych a reclaim of the very same in a contemporary avatar?
The reversal of the whole argument — that an artwork lies between a single image or a scattered one in multiple frames, as in the compilation of short stories – that a single frame might contain several artworks or segments of multiple artworks problematizes the question “when is an artwork complete?” Either way, the ratio equation between an image and artworks as 1:1 is nullified; and taken advantage through art-advertisements (like auction and museumization) by the very agency that initiated it: capitalism! This can be explained in a different mode. Ready-mades are valued lesser than artwork-proper; they are placed next to photography and prints, at least in economic terms. In other words, the imagination of readymade, instead of answering the question of completeness of artworks and its singular framing, ‘repositions’ both the questions into newer ‘mechanical contexts’, as though that is the precise answer!*1*
The idea of an image in various frames and possibility of the seeds of various artworks in a single frame (a book about art history is a frame with several artworks, though in mechanically reproduced format, since most of us die before seeing all, in live!*2*) brings in a consistent imbalance between ‘image’ and its metamorphosis into being/becoming an ‘artwork’.
If the experience of an artwork is a sophisticated admixture of the process of making it (contemporary visual expressions have erased the difference between this and the final product) and appreciation through articulated, spoken and written expressions, the ‘framed surface of an art image as artwork’ not only suffers an inferiority complex, but also hints that the actual artwork is the sum total of its sojourn from the studio, to idea, to its reception, within the ambiguous institutionalisation of art. This can be simply illustrated by an example: alternatively shut and open the eyes. The sum total of two such successive acts is where the art experience, its framing, its finality and philosophy seem to ‘lie’! What is left behind in the image, after this act, is a restrorer’s concern.//
*1* It is like the saying “I have finally solved the question of God, he is the problem!!”
*2* I love the television one liner of WM (world movies) which says, “50 films you should see before you die”. What if we stop watching after the 49th, will the absence of that last bit of artistic experience prolong my death?