"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Friday, December 23, 2011


I typically lean towards the side that insists authorial intent is neither here nor there. It doesn't matter what the artist was trying to say; what matters is what the viewer gets from the artwork. In fact, I think authorial intent is often a red herring distracting us in our quest for some Truth in this world.

When I'm looking at any piece of art, I don't research it to be able to appreciate it. If it speaks to me, and says something important to me, then I'm taking away something important. I recently re-watched American Beauty. When that movie first came out, I saw it twice in a row. I'm at the age to really get what Lester and Carolyn are going through, and I've always been the kinda weird girl you might grow to like after a while, never the perfect one everyone's lusting after.

But it was the larger messages that compelled me to spend another $7 for the late show: wake up and pay attention to all the beauty in the world, follow your own path with integrity, remember that death is just around the corner, and don't get sucked into the routine assembly line that is the average automaton's life. It's all the same message really. But even as I type this I can hear someone out there about to comment, "No, you've missed the real message of the film." My response: "La-la-la, I can't hear you." I'm captivated by the film because of what it's saying to me, not because of what the author meant for me to get from it.

And really, since art (poetry, paintings, music, film, etc.) can be interpreted by so many in different ways, isn't it sheer arrogance to suggest your interpretation is most accurate? Because even if you've read books about the piece of work, or met the artist directly, I'm not convinced it increases the validity of of the interpretation. Because I also question how thoroughly artists see the layers of meaning in their own works. There might be an intention to communicate a message, but other issues and ideas, our stuff, can sneak into what we create beyond our cognizance. So it remains possible for a viewer to get to a clearer understanding of the art than the artist. And the accuracy of the interpretation becomes unknowable, relative, personal wherein it only really matters what the piece says to you. And each viewpoint should be considered, contemplated, no matter how wrong it seems.

It's frustrating when people don't get what we're saying. There's some cases where people are just completely missing the mark, not actually taking in a significant part of what we're putting out there. They're not interesting to me. But there are other cases where people see what we've done and see more than what we intended to say. And that's very exciting - even when I vehemently disagree with them.

I've been thinking about this lately with respect to people as art: art in progress or performance art or fluid expressionism, whatever. We intend to communicate a message about who we are, but it's often lost. I'm often misinterpreted. Could it be the case that the viewer is, in this case, seeing a clearer version of me than I'm able to get to? Sometimes. But more often, like the first case above, they just completely miss it. And the question becomes when to clarify.

If people get something from their perspective of me that adds to their life, something they really appreciate, but it's really not me at all that they're seeing, it seems best to leave it alone. I don't explain, but hope people will re-evaluate their original explanation of how I am through repeated exposure. But sometimes the construction is oppositional to the intention. Then it seems wise to intervene with clarification.

If I paint a rape scene, my rape scene, as a means to come to terms with a trauma, hoping to communicate the devastation and pain it causes, someone could misinterpret it as a glorification of rape, a promotion of power over others. "Look how happy he looks doing this to her..." Interpretation is most affected by where your lens is focused which is precisely what the audience brings to the aesthetic experience. It's the individual viewer's addition to the pot luck, and some dishes are tastier than others.

Years ago my own mother insisted that my frugal nature ("You just hoard your money - live a little!") was the real reason I wouldn't buy a car. She couldn't grasp that I despise the mass consumption transportation devices. I can walk everywhere I need to go. A car merely gives me the ability to carry lots of purchases from a store to home. Who needs that? A car symbolizes freedom and fun to her. Not owning one means I must be trapped and miserable. That perception coloured her interpretation of me until she died. For this she pitied me a little, like some of my students pity me when they see me walking home from the grocery store dragging a cart behind me "like a homeless person."

We can't be understood in the way we understand ourselves, even by people close to us, because of what they're bringing to the table, particularly the connotations our iconography has for them. We're often liked or disliked for who people think we are, which doesn't seem fair at all. But who has time or the interest to explain and re-explain especially when many, like me, won't agree that's what we're like at all. In exterior artwork, it doesn't matter to me at all what the artist was intending to say, but the interior? Does our self-knowledge necessarily trump all other explanations, or does each interpretation, like in art, have the potential to be more in focus that the artist's deliberate conception?

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