Mathematical Theory of Communication on Art

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Shannon and Weaver’s Mathematical Theory of Communication is probably the most influential of all communication models; and has been used as a guide from which many contemporary communication theories have emerged.

The theory’s large influence on communication studies has also led some to claim that the theory is widely applicable to human communication.

In this essay, I will be analyzing how artworks are used to communicate messages and ideas to the general audience with the use of this theory. For the first part, I will briefly introduce the theory as a general entity. I will follow with my analysis.

The Mathematical Theory of Communication
The Mathematical Theory of Communication, hereinafter be referred to as the Mathematical Model, consists of several elements. The first five elements namely, Information Source, Transmitter, Channel, Receiver and Destination are all connected in a linear fashion. The sixth element, Noise Source, is connected to the Channel. The model is illustrated below (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Mathematical Theory of Communication
The Information Source is what produces the message. A Transmitter encodes the message into a signal and is passed through a Channel. The Receiver then decodes a message from the signal and is passed to the Destination. Noise Source is anything added to the signal that is not intended by the Information Source and distorts the message.

Using this model, there are many ways an artwork can communicate a message. The first instance is when an artwork is both the Information Source and Transmitter and the audience the Destination and Receiver. In the second instance the artist is the Information Source, the artwork the Channel and the audience, again, the Destination. The third instance is when an arts manager is placed into the equation.

The Artwork and Audience

The first instance is probably the ‘cleanest’ of the three ways proposed, involving two parties, the artwork and the audience. A painting hung on the wall at a gallery catches the eye of an audience member. The audience member proceeds to stand in front of the painting and attempts to analyze the painting’s message or perhaps just marvel at its brilliance. In this case, the simplistic Mathematical Model can then be further simplified to just include just the Information Source, Noise and Destination.

Noise in this scenario may include the inappropriate lighting in the gallery, noisy children running around in the gallery or even the way the painting is presented. All of the above would diminish the audience’s ability to interpret the artwork’s message.

The underlying assumption here is that the artist has completely divorced himself from the artwork and does not care how the audience interprets his art. However some artist do care about the message being send across. The Artist

The second instance brings in the ‘third’ party, the artist. Here the artist is the Information Source and Transmitter who uses his artwork to communicate ideas. This artwork becomes the Channel of communication.

Now Noise has the potential to disturb the message at two points, one between the Transmitter to the Channel, and the other from Channel to Receiver. The shape of Mathematical Model thus becomes slightly irrelevant, although the linearity of the model stays in contact.

Noise can happens in the first point when the artist is unable to materialize fully his concepts. This could be due to the lack of funds or the inability to acquire certain materials the artist hopes to use. The message is then compromised.

The second point occurs when the audience is unable to interpret correctly what the artist is trying to convey. There are many communication theories that elaborate on this, however for the purposes of this essay I will elaborate on ‘preconceived notion’ and ‘ideological differences’.

Preconceived notions could come in many forms, for instance when one first views Damien Hirst’s The...
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