Acts of interpretation: An exploration of the role 'played' or 'performed' by the audience in the process of viewing as it affects the production of meaning and interpretation

Wilson, Lyndsey Ann (2005) Acts of interpretation: An exploration of the role 'played' or 'performed' by the audience in the process of viewing as it affects the production of meaning and interpretation. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The aim of this thesis is to provide an overview of the role and responsibility of both the 'active audience' and the artist within the viewing of live art'. This 'active audience' is described as one who can become sufficiently involved within the process of interpretation so as to understand their own place within that process, to the point of appreciating that they themselves are incorporated within the work. The study seeks to assess the importance of all active and non-active participants within the meaning making process, the methods used by the artist to engage the active and non-active audience and the bearing this has in relation to the viewing of work.
The thesis synthesises aspects of literary theory with specific reference to deconstruction, reception theory and psychoanalytical study; it applies these theories to visual and live art'performance through examples of contemporary works visited during the research process. In some instances, quotes and references with specific reference to literature or visual art are used with new emphasis placed upon their effects on live art.
The use of these particular theories and their application to the interpretation of specific art forms has been a deliberate decision, applied to expand and inform the debate on participation.
Through analysis of the particular types of audience and artwork the research has defined an 'audience/performer continuum'. This continuum sets out the particular characteristics of viewing; emphasising the importance of awareness of the event, the strategy employed by the artist to promote participation; and the importance of a level of engagement by all players within that participation. Focussing specifically on a type of audience defined as the 'witness', the research discusses the ethical responsibility of a 'knowing audience' to the viewing of art and what they may seek to find in the interpretation of it. The research explores 'open interpretation' with particular reference to work which is deemed 'silent'. Making meaning from this 'silent' artwork is also explored with reference to authorial intentions and some of the psychological theories of
the importance of 'looking and seeing'. In seeking this knowledge there is an aim to establish a performance practice which demonstrates a full comprehension of not only the strategies employed in meaning production but the result of producing such spectators and the implications of such an act.

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