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Can knowledge spoil art?

December 11, 2013

Today I came across the picture of a sculpture. I had a profoundly emotional reaction to it. A friend posted the following on Facebook, under the title “Miscarriage”.


Curious about it, I looked it up. I found out that the artist is a young Slovakian man by the name of Martin Hudáček, a devout Christian, and that the sculpture is actually an anti-abortion piece called “Memorial for Unborn Children”. My reaction to it changed fundamentally.

Was my initial reaction to it more valid than the later one? Are they both? Is my reaction to a piece what matters or is it the artist’s intention?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. stephen permalink
    December 12, 2013 12:17 am

    I know what you mean, but I think art is in the eye of the beholder. If you want to turn away from a piece for some deeper reason that is always your choice too, but perhaps the intrinsic thing that drew you to it in the first place will win out and draw you back.

    I’ve always thought that once created any piece of art or work ceases to belong to the creator and so more importantly it is what the viewer invests in it which matters more; and which ideally leads to further discourse.

  2. December 12, 2013 12:27 am

    To me all art is about the perceiver and not about the intention of the artist. When Van Goge was alive and could not sell his art was it less meaningful or beautiful than after he died? When we look at his painting of an old pair of boots I see God Himself. Does that say more about me or the painting. But it does lead to thinking about context and how we all see reality through our own tunnels of belief systems. Surly now is the moment to begin to see the world not through the prism of language and belief but rather free of all labels.

  3. December 12, 2013 12:32 am

    Personally, I think the initial reaction of the viewer is what counts. If you don’t know what motivated an artist to create their work, you can still enjoy it and appreciate it. I always think of art as a mirror for my own emotions – if the piece evokes a particular emotion then that is, for me, the most valid reaction. Of course if I saw a painting and appreciated it, then found out it was created to honour Adolf Hitler, my reaction would change dramatically. Even in this case, the initial feeling would give my true (most valid) reaction to the piece itself, and my secondary reaction is to the artist whose views I disagree with.

  4. William Tamblyn permalink
    December 12, 2013 12:41 am

    Very good questions IMO.

    Bill Tamblyn Medford, NJ, USA

    >________________________________ > From: sturdyblog >To: >Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 6:54 PM >Subject: [New post] Can knowledge spoil art? > > > > >sturdyblog posted: “Today I came across the picture of a sculpture. I had a profoundly emotional reaction to it. A friend posted the following on Facebook, under the title “Miscarriage”. Curious about it, I looked it up. I found out that the artist is a young Slovakian man” >

  5. December 12, 2013 1:02 am

    My initial response to the piece wasn’t so much thinking of what the artist intended as once an artwork is completed and has left the artist it takes on a life of its own and sometimes reveals something new to the artist too, so could possibly go against his own intentions or what he at first perceived as inspiration. The piece for me simply shows the love, innocence, non – judgemental and healing power of a child – something far and above adult reactions, which can be clouded by all sorts of things.

  6. Macky permalink
    December 12, 2013 8:02 am

    For me, the power of this sculpture is the empathy for the mother figure it evokes, for the obvious loss of a child, which doesn’t change whetever it’s due to a miscarriage or an abortion; I was going to add even if the child had die of an accident , illness or murder, but that’s not correct, as the positioning & posture of the figures reveals that Mother is feeling responsible, but the spirit of the child forgives her by trying to comfort her.


  7. December 12, 2013 9:29 am

    He’s created better art than he intended to. Aiming for a narrow polemic, he’s created something that’s meaningful and affecting for those profoundly ideologically opposed to him. What a hilarious fuckup. I’d write to him and praise him for what he’s achieved for you, in terms that gently undermine what he intended to achieve. Now that would be art.

  8. Robert Perry permalink
    December 12, 2013 9:55 am

    Without the title this particular work would have been ambiguous; nothing wrong with that, but the words leave no room for ambiguity. Without this knowledge the impact would heve been diminished.

  9. December 12, 2013 10:07 am

    Experiencing a miscarriage or undergoing an abortion must both be deeply traumatic experiences for a woman (as a man, I can only imagine), and the image does portray this beautifully. However that has nothing to do with the moral issues surrounding abortion. I happen to believe that it is the woman’s right to make such decisions, and that society has an obligation to uphold that right and support the woman through the process. The artist may disagree, although his views are not made explicit in the interview.

  10. Leda Contis permalink
    December 12, 2013 5:19 pm

    If a work of art can be contained in a description or explanation, it is not art. Art transcends all that, including its own genesis or origin.

  11. Martin permalink
    December 12, 2013 9:04 pm

    Isn’t this precisely why some people choose to communicate via the visual arts, as opposed to the written word? Many of the greats have been famously reluctant regarding the specifics. Sometimes the most highly sought responses might simply be to have initiated the discussion.

  12. fmcoppola permalink
    December 15, 2013 11:01 am

    Surely the purpose of art is to draw an emotional reaction from the observer? Speaking as a musician, it is certainly the purpose of music. It does not matter whether your reaction was positive or negative, the point is that it made you react – and now it has made you think. That is great art. (And it is a beautiful piece, even without knowing the subject).

    Abortion is traumatic for many women. The decision to end a pregnancy is seldom easy, and a woman may grieve for the child just as much as if it were a spontaneous miscarriage. For me, this piece speaks for all women who have experienced abortion or miscarriage. Grief following abortion does not make abortion itself a bad decision.

  13. Marquis permalink
    December 16, 2013 11:08 am

    Your first reaction is the valid one. Don’t let your appreciation be biased for the message attached to the artwork. The conceptual content of a piece of art only exists in the artist’s mind, and should be analyzed in a different level, if necessary.

  14. December 21, 2013 2:35 am

    The piece has an openness to it: the translucent ghost or plasma, blood-stained child as forgiving its so-called errant, remorseful, sinful mother — or the woman’s grief for a might-have-been? A miscarriage, an abortion — these are events in our lives. They reverberate. Though I wonder about the talent of an artist who wants art to teach, to tell us what to think,or somehow ‘improve’ our thoughts, it is interesting that it could potentially speak to a woman who has experienced either form of loss. If her hands were in contemplative prayer, would that change it? Or in the ‘thinking man’ pose? A woman deep in thought about her life and its tributaries. Choosing life over the creation of another — the more clearly pro-choice version of his work — merits a statue of its own, to place beside. I would like to see that. But with compassion for the woman. For her life — as it is — her reasons and her choice.

    Good art — I think — keeps us foxed, makes us feel, and does not necessarily do what the artist thought it might.

    Does that make this good?

    • January 9, 2014 1:35 pm

      Sorry as a (pro-choice) miscarriage awareness supporter, I have to mention that emotionally miscarriage and abortion are very different (apologies, but your comment lumps them both together). Both are equally part of life, and the women who have them equally deserve respect and support: but their differences DO make the interpretation of this sculpture fundamentally different if you have encountered either… or both.
      Carrying a wanted child and it dying, then going through the physical pain (and medical uncertainty/fear) would give this sculpture a profoundly different meaning to that intended by its pro-life sculptor (which my personal ‘gut feeling’ is one of placing guilt and shame on a women who made a brave choice not to bring an unwanted child into the world and possibly already feel judged by others).

  15. January 9, 2014 1:26 pm

    It’s interesting – my first exposure to the arts was through performing arts and by their very nature you take someone else’s work and adapt it to suit yourself and your audience (be it music, lyrics or a script). So for me, meaning has always been seated with the audience (although that includes the audience’s prior knowledge of the text and artist to some extent). My own feelings on the matter are that any piece of art is ‘created anew’ by each new beholder, and what they bring. Perhaps I am just a postmodernist!
    This reminds me very strongly of the exact opposite: I first encountered Kahlo’s haunting miscarriage painting via someone who told me it was about her regretting a termination, and when I learned of the true origins my feelings drastically changed.

  16. January 12, 2014 8:48 am

    Interesting question to pose. I think your initial reaction was valid for you – that was your honest reaction, your feeling. If the artist wished to evoke something specific, it was up to him to make it apparent in the art itself. I appreciate that abortion and miscarriage can be linguistically linked sometimes – perhaps they are in Slovakian – Google gives me the same word for both in Slovakian, although it can sometimes be inaccurate. (as a British expat, I live in a country where people often use the same word for both, rightly or wrongly, it is what they do. I found it very disconcerting when I was in the hospital). Therefore, it should stand out in the art itself – which brings me back to my first point: your initial reaction was valid!

  17. February 17, 2014 12:11 am

    Both of your reactions are equally valid. A (photographic) sign connotes different things depending on its contextual framing and subtitle/caption. Recommended reading Roland Barthes, Death of the Author.

  18. paul martin permalink
    April 2, 2014 8:01 am

    I was at a soiree with a sculptress. She was displaying a father and son statue. As each guest arrived she sized them up and gave a different title to the work of art. I just remember Prodigal Son, but that was not the title she told me, which I forget.

  19. January 28, 2015 10:07 am

    I think both reactions are legitimate, the first was more genuine though. I agree with the premise, “knowledge” can corrupt the experience of the figurative arts.

    I just stumbled on your blog btw, it is excellent! I’ll definitely keep reading.

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