Blog 9: Intention vs Interpretation

Mine alone is the land that exists in my soul - Chagall

An artist recently commented on the fact that my interpretation of a painting didn’t concur with his own story. This raised an interesting dilemma for me and I would like to defend one’s right to appraise pictures in the absence of an artist’s statement. I want to be able to decipher the symbolism without other influences.

Generally, I think that once a painting has been completed and despatched to a gallery, it is at the mercy of the public’s many interpretations dependent upon the viewer and their filtering of the clues in the artwork before them, in the context of their own experiences. Why can’t a painting mean whatever we, the viewers, want it to? Should the artist impose their own interpretation, denying the viewer the opportunity to work out a satisfactory interpretation of their own? I realise that this would mean that the artist’s own interpretation may be diluted and have reduced significance over time however, they may be surprised that alternative views could reveal fresh insights and valid interpretations.

© André Lage Freitas

Whilst many viewers may well engage with a picture and appreciate the artist’s transmission of ideas, cognitive skills and intellect must come into play. Personally as a novice, I think it’s a brilliant start if we find the work aesthetically pleasing and feel some emotional connection to it. We don’t all read pictures in the same way and archaeologists are still arguing over the meaning or role of early cave paintings. Similarly, I am sure that many art lovers just don’t get what it is that the artist is trying to project; what song they are singing. Its all about the visual language of course. Colours, shapes, line, tone, brush strokes and texture are the tools they use and through these we experience the various emotions: relaxed, happy, sad, morbid, a sense of excitement, dark, threatening, and other responses.

Of course it would take away room for interpretive error if every painting was accompanied by a blurb, although we recently visited the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW and lively discussion was generated within our group despite the blurbs. Let’s keep talking about paintings. If they generate comment they are stimulating our senses and stirring up our emotions and the artist is connecting with us on some level.

More next week,



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