Jeroen Marttin: The Author as Schoolmaster / On Killing Authors and Emancipating Spectators

Mentor: Doreen Mende

Independent reviewer: John Byrne

Arnhem, June 2011


The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the role of the artist and audience in looking at art from my own point of view. For this I decided to look at the possibilities of close reading two texts that were important to me, The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes and The Emancipated Spectator by Jacques Rancière. Finally I wanted to test the theories in practice on a specific exhibition, to see if their theories would be useful in looking at art. For the exhibition I choose Play van Abbe 4 at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, specifically for its new way of creating an experience for the viewer instead of a more traditional exhibition.
From Barthes I took that a viewer should see the necessity to leave the author's intentions out while looking at a work, and next to this, that he should not listen to what a critic says about a work. Every reading is a personal reading.
The reading of Rancière brought me the realisation that a spectator and the artist should be on the same level. Each enabling himself to take a story, like a work of art, appropriate it and translate it into a new story.
Play van Abbe 4 is an exhibition that plays with the notions of audience. What should the role of the audience be? In this thesis I showed that although the exhibition tried to leave the viewer to a personal reading, it is merely impossible to achieve that, but that it is still a valuable goal to try to achieve.


This was a very interesting and highly personal reading/re-reading of the reader/spectator through Barthes' 'Death of the Author' and Ranciere's 'Emancipated Spectator'. Martinn takes key lessons from each author's intervention – realising that the 'Death of the Author' does not mean the literal end to the role of makers of art, but a challenge to the 'tyranny' of the Bourgeois construct of 'Authorship' as the controlling locus of meaning. Taking this in hand, Martinn then offers an equally personal/poetic reading or Ranciere's emancipated spectator supplemented by the conception of the 'ignorant teacher' who abjures hierarchies of power in order to liberate the student and become coproducer/collaborator in the process of knowledge production. The strength of Martinn's essay resides in his subsequent application of findings to an analysis of Van Abbemusuem's Play 4 Exhibition. Martinn offers a useful critique of the Van Abbe's attempts to offer the spectator a means to critically reflect on their own active participation in the production of the show's meaning. Martinn then goes on to ask a series of interesting questions such as 'does the Van Abbe cause the death of the Author? In the light of this, Martinn usefully muses on the long process which might be the 'Death of the Author' and the audiences role in this (and the potentially problematic relationships which may occur if the audience may wish to exclude the author from their interpretations/constructions of a work's meaning in the gallery space).
Martinn's final propositon, that the author/artist may well take on the role of the ignorant school master in a  relationship of finding/becoming with the audience is very useful and incisive. It is a pity that this proposition was not reached earlier and then rigorously tested (albeit in Martinn's own poetic style). This would have allowed for a clearer critical analysis of Martinn's propositions to be continued/pursued through the analysis of Barthes' and Ranciere's work. J.B.

John Byrne is currently Co-Director of Static Gallery and Programme
Leader of the BA (Hons) Fine Art Course at Liverpool School of Art and Design.
Over the last fifteen years Byrne has published internationally on issues of art, technology and popular culture.