Commonplace

“An artwork, then, is a kind of playground, which is built by the artist in an attempt to understand something. The shape that playground takes will depend on the artist and what it is they’re wanting to explore. Once the playground is built, others can come and try it out—hopefully gaining their own insights and understandings along the way. Not all playgrounds are frivolous, of course, just as not all play is pleasurable. A work of art like Claude Lanzmann’s documentary film Shoah (1985) is a harrowing experience, not to mention physically and emotionally exhausting (it runs for 9½ hours). It’s a playground full of broken glass and barbed wire and no one plays there for long without getting hurt. But that, after all, is what it’s about and the scars we take away from Shoah can teach us a great deal.

“This idea, of art as playground, allows us to see viewers, readers and users of art as active, interactive participants, rather than passive recipients of the artist’s message. It also recognizes the extent to which each individual ‘player’ brings their own contribution, modifying the ‘ludic ambience’ of the work and changing how it can be used (not only for themselves, but also for anyone who plays alongside them). This is not to say the artist has no influence on how his or her artwork will be experienced, any more than [Scott] McCloud’s gardener has no control over his garden. If you put up swings, people will come and swing on them. But equally, some will use them as imaginary rocket ships, others will twist the chains to see them spin and some adventurous souls might even shinny up to the top of the poles, using them as a climbing frame and not a swing at all.”

From “The Perfect Planet: Comics, Games, and World-Building” (2004), by Dylan Horrocks

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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