International Journal of Art & Design Education

The Act of Looking: Wofgang lser’s Literary Theory and Meaning Making in the Visual Arts

Volume 27.2   2008



In his account about reading novels, Wolfgang Iser argued that the work of art is not the text itself but the experience that emerges as a reader interacts with the text. Yet, he clarified that the aesthetic object is not based only on subjective input of the reader but also determined by specific signs that a text presents. This article draws from Iser’s theories to examine the process through which five teenagers discover meaning in an abstract sculpture by artist Isamu Noguchi. The author shows how the young viewers arrived at a series of readings that were elicited by the qualities of the work and that built upon each other in a sort of snowballing process. The article also illustrates how the sort of meaning that an artwork can yield stretches throughout the whole experience and can therefore not be translated into a discursive statement.