This conversation is closed.

What a painting "means" is useless and has likely always been so.

The new freedom will be to own our own experience of what is being viewed. The notion that anyone can "know" what the artist intended is preposterous. All the knowledge in the world about what was in the artist's mind can never get you inside the artists head.

My own paintings have never been about what I had to say or what I was trying to communicate---they have always been about the viewer having their own experience---whatever that might be---and owning that experience.

  • thumb
    Dec 4 2012: Ok Charles. I actually agree with Daryl but you have to keep quiet about some of this stuff. It's the story that sells the painting. Very few people actually acquire the product of art because it appeals to them. They get it because it is trendy or because of the story.

    Others assign meaning where there is none. I remember a visit to an art museum where the art "instructor" talked about this painting of a monk. He appeared to be floating and he had his hands behind his back. The instructor went on and on about how the hands behind the back meant that the monk had the hand of God yada yada and how the appearance of floating signified closeness to God yada yada.

    Well I took a look at the painting and realized the reason the monk had his hands behind the back was because the artist could not get the hands right. You could see where he tried a couple times and then just gave up, painted over and put the hands behind the back. Musta had a deadline or something. Again with the floating. You could see where the artist screwed up the depth perception and gave up. It was a technical issue but the instructor assigned all kinds of ethereal meanings to it as did probably the textbook she got it from.

    And the textbook she got it from probably records the artist selling the painting to the monk or church that bought it originally. I could see him selling it that way...

    But please, we create what we like and we sell it with story. Shhhh.
    • Dec 4 2012: Linda, you are so right. Sorry for speaking out :) It is certainly a case of "follow the money." Lots of jobs and money revolve around their being significant stories around any piece of art---even if the stories have to be total fabrication and hyperbole :) I will attempt to speak more quietly :)
      • thumb
        Dec 11 2012: You shouldn't speak more quietly, for this is an interesting take on art. What Linda says is true: Paintings sell with story. Each individual has his/her own personal story that he/she associates with a painting. What sells the painting is the story that the individual has created in analyzing a piece. But Charles has a very good point: We will never know what the artist was actually thinking when he painted a piece of work. But that's what makes art meaningful - the stories that people take away with the experience of seeing the art. People are imaginative creatures, and that is why art appeals: People create stories based on what they see.
  • Comment deleted

  • Comment deleted

    • Dec 8 2012: Carolyn, your experience of my paintings would just be your own experience---how could I have a problem with that :) Art lives on long after we die and people still have experiences with it---the presence or opinion of the artist certainly does not matter then and most likely does not really matter now. Could my feelings be hurt? Possibly but that has more to do with me than the viewer and is not what we are talking about. If you want to see what my work is like you can easily find it by googling my name + "art." Art, like love, just is---as soon as we give it reasons it ends.
    • Dec 9 2012: Oh why make it difficult :)
  • Comment deleted

    • Dec 8 2012: :) Tilting at windmills is an allusion to Don Quixote and fighting impossible fights against impossible odds. Tangents are fine by me.
  • Comment deleted

    • Dec 8 2012: I am not really sure who calls the shots about what art means---I do think that I am totally capable of having my own experience of anything independent of whether I have been informed about it---told a story about it. It may be a different "kind" of experience but no less valuable. The notion that some would have me believe that my experience is necessarily diminished by lack of "information" is what I find objectionable and exclusionary---possibly even elitist. I am accustomed to tilting at windmills :)
  • Comment deleted

    • Dec 7 2012: Quite the contrary, I think the general point of view about art is very limiting for the viewer---I am merely adding to it---expanding the possibilities. The viewer today can be literally hamstrung by assuming it is their lack of "knowledge" that is preventing them from having a real experience with art. Even artists can be considered co-conspirators in this issue---or at least co-dependent :)
  • thumb
    Dec 7 2012: Allow me to quote Jacques Maritain as a different perspective on the idea of artists expressing a meaning in their paintings: QUOTE: "However skillful an artist may be, and however perfect his technique, if he unhappily has nothing to tell us, his work is valuless." Do you find any value in his statement?
    • Dec 7 2012: I find this statement unequivocally absurd. His statement sounds like it has more to do with job security than the possibilities of art.
      • thumb
        Dec 7 2012: I see you are not intimidated by Maritane's reputation as a powerful and influential philosopher and thinker. I expected, and respect, your response based on your clear statement of the meaning, or lack thereof, contained in your paintings. Do you think it is inconsistent that the artist could be expressing a personal thought, truth, or emotion, and, at the same time, offering the viewer an opportunity to "have their own experience"?
        P.S.-- Is your work currently exhibited in the Oxford Gallery online?
        • Dec 7 2012: Edward, that is pretty much exactly how I see it---if I am reading you correctly :) As to Mairtane---"important" people are wrong all the time :)
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      Dec 7 2012: I don't think this is an unpopular view at all. It is one of a number of widely held views, I think.
    • Dec 7 2012: Again, my premise isn't really about what the artist is trying to do---it is about the viewer. What is necessary for the viewer to be the viewer? What I am trying to get at is that "nothing" is "necessary." For example, we do not need to be taught anything or learn anything to appreciate a sunset. While it might be interesting to know that it is red because some volcano went off somewhere, the appreciation does not require that knowledge. Some may argue that the sunset is not art---painting the sunset is art. I would only say that there can be art that is "like" the sunset---art without "intent."
      • thumb
        Dec 7 2012: It is clearly true that people can enjoy an artist's work without somehow understanding the artist's intent. We respond to colors and balance and so forth without any mediating understandings. Babies love stark contrasts and face-like features. People typically are attracted to things that are shiny. Those are the responses in the first second, that come from the earliest parts of the brain.
  • thumb
    Dec 4 2012: Though I can't say I fully understand your point in this discussion I can, as an artist, speak to what has been commented as a result………firstly I have always been intrigued by the misinterpretation of the meaning of the word "art".

    Art is a verb…….a process…….a discipline………not noun, not an object. The result of art, an artifact, is a painting, a sculpture, poem, song……...a work of……...and as it relates to the observer, a feeling. The "story" is a tandem effort by both artist and observer, but the artist's intent is to induce and share a feeling.
    • Dec 4 2012: I wish we could get the dictionaries to agree with your definition of art. I would have to argue that it "can" be the artists intent to "induce and share a feeling." All of that is not really what I am interested in this conversation. It is the viewer/observer. What do they bring to the "looking." Can they have a creative experience of their own with the piece or do they require the back story for it to have a relationship with the piece. There is nothing "wrong" with that if they do---I am just not interested in that approach for myself---and I think others might like that also.
  • thumb
    Dec 4 2012: I guess then what you're trying to communicate is that you don't care about what you have to communicate, which is a kind of communication. Kind of like not making a decision is also a decision.
  • Dec 3 2012: IMO, Guernica by Pablo Picasso thoroughly destroys your idea.
    • Dec 4 2012: How so?
      • Dec 4 2012: My whole point is that the painting answers your question..
        • Dec 4 2012: Barry, I am sorry---I still don't "get it"----do I have to be a fan of Picasso to get your meaning?
  • thumb
    Dec 3 2012: A painting is an artistic expression; not like a song, not like a novel, not like a film, not like sculpture; but certainly an expression.
    Saying that it means something is a subjective statement, but the painter is communicating.

    Art is like life. Sometimes it seems to have a meaning, sometimes it seems to make no sense, sometimes we find answers even without knowing the question, sometimes we reject the begging questions and ask something else.
    • Dec 4 2012: I think this is pretty much what I am saying too.
  • Dec 3 2012: Debateable. I mean art itself has a meaning. Sometimes the artist has a meaning or story that they're trying to convey, sometimes the audience thrusts the meaning onto the work. Just because you might not operate from having a personal meaning within your art, not all artists operate in the same way. Some do have a personal agenda about their work whether it is condemning something within society, calling out for help with something or any number of other things. They don't shut out audience interpretation and experience, but they also have their own thing to say.
    • Dec 4 2012: And that is fine---what the artist has to say is still not as important as the viewer's own very personal experience of the piece---in my opinion.
  • thumb
    Dec 3 2012: 'The new freedom will be to own our own experience of what is being viewed.'

    I did not know that this sort of freedom is new. I always took it. Instinctively.

    Whenever an artist sets out to transport a clear meaning he/she should either choose pictograms or start writing.

    There are not many ways of communication known to me which are as unpredictable as art is and this on both, intellectual and emotional levels.
    • Dec 4 2012: I think it is very much new to many viewers.
      • thumb
        Dec 4 2012: Actually, I am not that certain. All of the 'regular people' I know are pretty clear on art. They either like it or don't know what to do with it and they are able to speak their minds openly. This to me is to own ones experience.

        Then I came to meet a different type of people, way less in numbers and often found at auctions or vernissages. Those people are easy influenced by the view of others. They 'beat about the bush' when asked the simple question of like or dislike, as if there where a trillion of aspects to be considered to be clear on a statement.

        For those people I agree with you, and if they would take this freedom it certainly was new to them.
  • thumb
    Dec 3 2012: Charles, on the contrary ,I feel that what a painting "means" is useful . The meaning/story might not be the same as the artist's ..but can be my own imagination or fantasy. How can we appreciate a painting without deciphering it?
    • Dec 4 2012: This is actually closer to what I am saying. Your own experience of the piece is really all there ultimately is---all the stuff that is added may just be a distraction from a true experience of the piece.
  • Dec 3 2012: In the written word the writer is almost always conveying some sort of "message" aren't they? This is not necessary the case with painting. Painters have attempted to "communicate" something in paintings----I am just not sure how necessary this is to art today.
    • thumb
      Dec 3 2012: Perhaps you have moved from "useless" to "not necessary?" There is art that is purely self expression with the audience incidental. There is art that is about engagement in the form of questioning or conveying a message. And there is art made for audience or to manipulate audience or to appeal to market. Why narrow the range of artistic options?
      • Dec 4 2012: I guess I would say "ultimately" useless and unnecessary. When everything is stripped away and all there is is the viewer and the viewed---all that matters is the viewer's experience.
        • thumb
          Dec 4 2012: Can the viewer's experience be enhanced by considering the context?
      • Dec 4 2012: Of course---I am only saying it is not "necessary" and can often interfere.
  • thumb
    Dec 3 2012: Would you say that the same is true of the written word- that there is no value for the reader in asking what the writer meant by his choices of words and images?
  • thumb

    Gail .

    • 0
    Dec 3 2012: The question of what a paining "means" is a relatively recent development in the field of art. It came about with the development of "modern painting". I'm not a fan
    • Dec 3 2012: TED Lover---yes, people don't want to be responsible for having their own experience of the piece so they fill the emptiness with an elaborate "story."
      • thumb

        Gail .

        • +2
        Dec 3 2012: Rather a cruel and arrogant statement, don't' you think? It isn't that I don't want to be responsible for my own experience when I see a piece of modern art. It's that I don't want to waste my time looking for anything to appreciate, so I walk blithely by without stopping - thus CLAIMING responsibility for my own LIFE experience.
        • Dec 3 2012: I am not saying your experience has to "look" like anything---one's experience is simply one's experience---no different than taking in a sunset.