Meaning and Meaning-Making: An exploration into the importance of creative viewer response for art practice

Jozwiak, Jörg. 2014. Meaning and Meaning-Making: An exploration into the importance of creative viewer response for art practice. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Empirical research suggests that gallery and museum audiences have a strong propensity to make sense of artworks by understanding what the artist ‘means to say’, or what the ‘encoded message’ of a work might be. Conversely, many contemporary artists subscribe to the idea that observers may (or even should) endow their work with their own meaning. In response to this situation, this thesis asks: How can one facilitate a more individual engagement by viewers in the meaning making process?

To approach this task, the concepts of meaning and meaning-making are re-assessed and new definitions suggested that endeavour to relate these terms to discussions of art appreciation. A great deal of attention has been given to processes of meaning-making as a collective, social process. In this work the main emphasis will be placed upon the individual viewer’s encounter of a work of art. To develop the concept of meaning-making, arguments from post-structuralist discourses, literature theory, pragmatist aesthetics, and the psychology of art apprehension will be considered. The relation between meaning, verbalisation, and emotion, as well as between the viewer’s constructive activity and the artist’s intentions are discussed. This work also considers how the construction of meaning is influenced by contextual elements such as biological and social factors, the latter including the influence of the gallery environment. Existing theories, viewer testimonials, artists’ statements, and both contemporary and art historical examples are examined in order to determine various approaches that facilitate meaning-making processes.

It will be argued that this interdisciplinary approach successfully brings together diverse and otherwise divided perspectives on the concept of meaning making and the meaning-making process. This research is ultimately aimed at developing a better understanding of the artist-audience relationship. It is anticipated this will proffer a resource for art educators and for other visual artists.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Meaning, meaning-making, artist, audience, participation, engagement, viewer, intention, art, artworks, education, empirical aesthetics, audience research, psychology, pragmatism, post-structuralism, open work.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 July 2014

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

01 Aug 2014 14:51

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:29


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