When we interact with a piece of art, there are a plethora of opinions on how we should actually interpret that which we see/read/hear/feel. Some say it is vital to understand what the creator of the artwork was intending when they created the art. Others say that this is utterly unimportant, instead the viewer out to extract the meaning for themselves. I say, yes of course I’ve got my own opinion, that you ought to decide why you interact with an artwork to figure out how to interact with it.
Do you want to get something philosophical from what you see? In other words, are you viewing art with the purpose of it having some effect on you. If this is the case then it is more than necessary to try to understand all aspects of that art, including what the creator meant by it. That is not to say you need to accept another’s meaning as your own, but it seems inane to restrict your ability to understand art for the sake of not letting someone else determine meaning for you as is the wont of the thinkers today.
It is not necessarily unthinking or authoritarian to accept someone else’s views and let them influence you. But, as history has shown, it can be easy to let that choice be taken away from you which is why I hesitate and say do it but not all the way. Understand that the person making art is just as flawed, self-conscious and questioning of the world as you. Sure they are able to express that state better than you but that doesn’t mean anything more than just that. But, it is important to note that an artist spends days, months and years thinking about something – whatever it is – and so they are probably someone worth listening to. But again, you have your own opinions and should not just let them go by the wayside because someone else has shinier and flashier ones.
But there’s also the flipside to this, which involves the complete severing of everything from a work of art except you and it. It is a much more phenomenological approach and is requires you to contextualize the piece you are experiencing – to bring your own influences to it rather than attempting to let it influence you. I tend away from this but that’s purely because I am a nerd, and I read too much – so it’s hard to be so detached for me.
But, I must admit, with poetry I find myself most significantly impacted when I know little to nothing about the words and the author who wrote them.
I remember when I was in second year of university – this is a few years back – I bought a collected poems of Canadian poet Robert Service. He is a bit like Jack London and Stephen Leacock rolled into the Yukon frontiersman. But, I only picked this up after reading his poems.
Unfortunately I cannot be a thorough writer and give you examples of this – because I left that book on a bookshelf in Toronto and I am in Kingston for another year at Queen’s. But, he his early collections are well worth the read of anyone interested in poetry, especially early-Canadian works.
So, I guess it is important to ask yourself what you expect from a work of art when you are consuming it. It is much too facile to simply say “I want to know everything” or “I want to know nothing.” You will be left stupid by absolutism, I am convinced of this. But, you don’t need to always be changed by a work of art.
It’s like any part of life, you must usher in change when you want it. If you aren’t looking for a painting to be anything more than a pretty collection of brushstrokes and colours, then why make it anything more than that? I’ve never understood the insistence that people ought to do this or that because it removes the whimsical, necessarily lax aspect of art consumption. If you are afraid of art, it might be because you are tacking that shit much too seriously.
I have heard many say that art galleries make them feel self-conscious. I, unfortunately, don’t care enough about what others think (I am not bragging, it’s something I’m working on lol) to see a docent as anything more than someone to ask a pamphlet of or the location of a washroom. They provide a service, sure, but they are just someone with a BFA or some such degree. You are there for the same reason as them: to experience the beauty of what’s inside the gallery – don’t forget that.
Art is meant to be a communication between a piece and yourself – with you at the helm of that interaction. When we add the extraneous, superficial aspect of human interaction we debase the communication into something cowed by our emotions and self-consciousness which is never a good thing, mes amis.