The Target Book of Chance Meetings

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Paintings made to be used as targets in shooting competitions, dating from the 15th century until the early 1900s, can be found in museums and private collections throughout Europe, but especially in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. These paintings are often very highly finished works of art with subjects that range from mythology, through social and political realism and satire, to the metaphysical. 1

The art of the past tends to be assigned meaning and significance appropriate to the preoccupations of the society and culture from which it is viewed, which may be very different from the culture that produced it. Because historical target paintings were made with a specific social function, which now can seem inappropriate to their subject matter and in conflict with today's assumptions of the value and uses of art, the interpretation of meaning in these objects becomes simultaneously both imperative and subverted.

The practices of the visual arts, such as painting, drawing, and the taking of photographs, can all be viewed as 'ballistic' activities where 'muscular performances ... take place at a rate such that cognitive processing of the 'outcome' of action only takes place after the act is complete'2.

In the 20th century the practices of art began to include the assignment of meaning and significance through selection3, designation and contextualisation. It became a function of the artist, without actually engaging in the processes of physical making, to aim the viewer towards a thought, a response, or an understanding. Although apparently far removed from the 'muscular performances' of painting and drawing, the 'ballistic' nature of this work is apparent if one accepts the impossibility of prescribing understanding. Perhaps viewing a work of art is also a ballistic activity.

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1See: Braun, A. 1983 Historical Targets Royden, London.
Historical painted targets are hard to find on the Web. There is a PDF (3.3mb), mostly in Czech but with good illustrations, available from Muzeum ve Frenstate pod Radhostem in Moravia
2Gell, A. 1998 Art and Agency Oxford University Press, p45.
3For an indication of the source of the photographic material in The Target Book of Chance Meetings see: BURST

All material ©P. F. White/FXP Photography, 2007-2017. ENTER SITEVisit the Shooting Gallery