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Reflective Art and Visceral Art

In discussing the nature of works of art, it is helpful to have a vocabulary for categorizing different kinds of (and approaches to) artistic expression.  A conceptual polarity which does not rely on conventional approaches clarifies the intent of works of art without resort to pejorative (or approbatory) terminology.

There are two poles between which any specific form of artistic expression can be placed--reflective and visceral.  The principal characteristic distinguishing them is the aesthetic focus of the work.  This concept refers to the relative emphasis the work places upon depth of content or immediacy of impact.  Works emphasizing depth of content challenge the mind and spirit and offer rich rewards for repeat exposure to them.  Works emphasizing immediacy of impact are designed to have a profound and immediate effect upon the perceiver.  These foci are not mutually exclusive.  Indeed, great works of art attend to both of them.

Artistic Intent


Reflective Art Visceral Art
Aesthetic Focus: Depth of Content Immediacy of Impact
Motivation: Educate/Edify Entertain
Perceiver Involvement: Requires Effort Easy/Accessible
Language/Tradition: [Imported] Vernacular/Indigenous

Beyond this, reflective works generally have as a motivation an attempt to educate or edify, require some effort to be appreciated, and, in many cases, derive from an "imported tradition."  Works which are primarily visceral in character emphasize  immediacy of impact, attempt to entertain, are characterized by ease and accessibility, and, often, derive from an indigenous cultural tradition.  These categories are not hard and fast nor are they, like aesthetic focus, mutually exclusive.  However, understanding this makes it clearer why what is known as "popular" (or visceral) art can survive what economists call the market test and why reflective art should not be expected to do so.

©2002 by Doug Borwick
All rights reserved.