Gadamer // Understanding Art: The play of work and spectator

“The diamond dress” by CSM Fellow designer, Mr Teerabul Songvich. Photo by Nick Night. The dress, that launched the career of Mr Teerabul, is part of the UAL archive (CMS). The designer’s approach to the process of making, is informed by the act of play, and in my view it seems to embody at many level Gadamer’s theories.

“All hermeneutic experience is a play-process” – Gadamer

Sometimes meaningful concepts at the base of human’s communication, and life, are told in formal ways, that tend to create distance, rather than comprehension. While reading the chapter about the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, in Monica Vilhauer’s book, ‘Ethics of Play’, I must confess I had to convey all my strengths to the noble cause of not loosing my attention. The content was extraordinary, however badly delivered in my humble opinion. I often wished the writer had written “This is what I think”, rather than “this is what Gadamer said, and it means… bla, bla.”

Although my comment may sound inappropriate in this context, it is indeed a provocation, for I believe that reflecting on Gadamer’s “Ethics of Play”, required a demonstration in terms of writing style, of his fundamental core points. The act of “play” was missing.

The fictional character of Professor Keating, alias Mr Robin Williams in the American film “The Dead Poet Society”, during a lecture told his students:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for”.

If Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpretation, including both verbal and non-verbal communication, the understanding does not consist in the reconstruction of the mere objective meanings of absolute and meta-historical truth, but in a continuous fusion of horizons where, the Heideggerian motif of the relationship between art and truth with Gadamer leads to a unfinished and infinite process of play between the interpreter and the work itself, which becomes a form of “Koinè”, a language, the so-called hermeneutic circle for which interpretation is a process that continually goes from the whole to the parts and vice versa.

Therefore scientific theories are no longer considered as the only ones in reference to the structure of existence as “being there-in-the-world” is revealed the sense of what the existence is, opposed to the Cartesian model of “being separate from the world of objects that I observe” .

A drama, a piece of music, come alive when it’s played in front of the audience in Gadamer’s theories. Likewise, I would assume a Lecture becomes a true experience of teaching, and learning, only when it takes place between a tutor and the students. Pondering on this reflection, I would therefore conclude that within the “hermeneutical dimension” of play, the three elements of equality, inclusivity and diversity are illuminated, and become source of quality and abundant richness. The participation of every individual to the game is therefore crucial to the success of the play itself, regardlessly the outcome. And by that I mean, that the outcome is informed by the active dialogue between the two actors, and therefore cannot be framed, but affected in its mutation from the starting point of analysis.

Seriousness has a fundamental role in the game, and the act of playing depends on it in whole. Hermeneutic philosophy had an increasingly relevant role in the debate of contemporary aesthetics and criticism.  By exploiting the resources in an “hermeneutical dimension”, the techno-scientific reductionism of the “Practical knowledge”, comes to “experience” a compenetration with the genuine participation of the spectator.

Gadamer’s reflection of the effects of “non-genuine” participation, leads to theories that are extraordinary particularly when applied to contemporary art criticism, and the debate around originals, replicas, multiples and so on.

“All encounter with the language of art, is an encounter with an unfinished event and is itself part of this event” – Gadamer