Art as a means of Communication

The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch

Let us begin today’s theoretical post by defining a few key concepts: art, communication and the communication process.

Art can be defined as:

The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Whereas Communication can be defined as:

The successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.

Which inevitably brings us to an important question…

How do you successfully convey or share ideas and feelings?

This is where the communication process kicks in. The communication process is simple and basically states that every means of communication includes these seven elements:

  • A transmitter: The person with the need or desire to communicate something.
  • A message: The content of the communication.
  • A code: The system of signs used to communicate, which must be known to the person to whom the message is destined.
  • A means: The element that allows the physical transmission of the message.
  • A Receptor: The person to whom the message is destined.
  • A Context: Wherein the communication intervenes.
  • A Function: The intended purpose of the communication.

Let us use Edvard Munch’s Scream as an example for this theory. The transmitter would be Edvard Munch, as he is the person desiring an emotional conveyance. He defines his message in his diary:

“I was walking along a path with two friends — the sun was setting — suddenly the sky turned blood red — I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city — my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

His code for transmitting anxiety anguish and nature’s agony are his loose strokes and violent colors. The means is his canvas, or in this case, his cardboard¹. The context of his message is Expressionist Germany, towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The function of his work is to sensitize his public.

All seven elements are present. Does this mean that Edvard Munch successfully conveyed his message? The answer depends upon the Receptor. As previously established, a message is transmitted through a system of codes which must be understood by the person to whom the message is destined.

In this particular case, the first intended receptors might be Munch’s two friends, those who did not pause at the sight of a blood red sky. However, as this particular piece of art has come to be considered a masterpiece, the Receptor is the entire world, as every human has the potential to view this piece². The successful conveyance is thus dependent upon the comprehension of whoever might be viewing the painting and his emotional baggage and/or own set of prejudices.

This theory of communication is but a model; a simplification of reality. The real case for Art as a means of Communication is best expressed through another simplication:

A picture is worth a thousand words.


¹Scream is a mixture of oil, tempora and pastel on cardboard
²With the advent of the internet, transmission of information is easier than ever. Nonetheless, the importance of books and printed information is not to be underestimated, as for centuries, it was the most effective and most important means of communication.
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1 Comment

Filed under Art, Philosophy, Theory

One response to “Art as a means of Communication

  1. Judith

    Mon dieu, mais aurais-tu lu le même livre sur la communication que moi par hasard? 😛 Les sept éléments m’ont rappelé d’excellents souvenirs, LOL!! Mais ton texte est brillant et ta vision des choses devrait beaucoup plus être étudiée que ledit livre, je t’assure!! 🙂

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