Friday, January 11, 2013

Controlling Interpretation

Sometimes I read comments from photographers on flickr who are concerned about people faving their photos (especially "innocent" or "artistic" photos) "as porn". In other words, a "creep" favorites a photo, and a quick look at their favorites reveals what quite obviously appears to be a porn collection more so than an art exhibition. We'll ignore the difficulty of drawing the line between art and porn here and just assume that, as it is in some cases, the difference is clear.

My question is, how much control does, or should, an artist have over how their art is interpreted? I leave it up to each individual artist to decide, as it is their decision, but perhaps I can make an argument for what a reasonable expectation would be. If you produce a work of art, that is not intended to be "wank material", and another person wanks to it, should you, the artist, be offended?

This question digs at the root of the power struggle between intent and interpretation. Some artists leave their art fully up to interpretation, maintaining an air of mystery over each piece's original intent. Other artists share their intention, while allowing for others to form their own interpretations. But is it reasonable for an artist to reject a person's interpretation if it clashes with their intention, or their principles and values as a person?

This is the very struggle of the artist. The art is a part of the artist, and often a very important part - a very meaningful, sometimes emotional part. But the whole point of sharing art is to give it, in some form, to other people. To let other people experience it. And while the expectation may be for the viewer to experience, specifically, what the artist intended for a particular piece, the truth is, it's a two-way exchange.

As soon as you bring in the spectator, he or she becomes part of the exchange, and, in his or her mind - if not in the mind of the artist (who may or may not be 'married' to the original intent of the piece) - he or she becomes part of the art, and his or her interpretation further shapes that art. Now, if an artist is not willing to let go of the piece, to a small extent - he doesn't have to 'give it up' - and allow others to interpret it as they will, then that artist should not be sharing it in the first place. In my opinion.

But, this does not mean that the artist himself has to leave himself open to be molded by the interpretations of his art. He can, at his own discretion, accept or reject any and all interpretations that are made, and he can choose either to adapt his original interpretation of the art, or, he can also choose to stick to the original intent. He can separate his interpretation from that of others, if he so desires.

Granted, a piece of art reflects on the artist, as it does the other way around, but I think it's dangerous to be so sensitive about interpretations that an artist restricts the possible interpretations allowed for his piece of art. Because, in essence, this is thought control. If somebody thinks your art is porn, that does not mean that you agree with that interpretation. It doesn't mean that you support that interpretation, either. But it says a lot about your strength of character if you allow that interpretation to be made, even though you may disagree with it.

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