People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. — Magritte
Magritte’s thesis represents one possible position in the perception of art; there are others. Magritte clove to this nearly his whole artistic life. But other artists have chosen to enter into, to interact with, the universe of discourse and interpretation proceeding from the minds of their viewers. For many of these artists, connection with their viewers is central to art-making, and they interest themselves passionately in what those viewers think and feel about the art they observe.
Each of us makes a kind of unconscious contract with an artist whose works we perceive. This contract is founded upon the principle that every act of perception is an act of creation: the consciousness of the observer takes all sense impressions (perceptions) of any external object and fashions them into an experience of the object. But such experience must necessarily be filtered through the life experience, emotions, and intellect of each observer — a grand collage of influences. Whether put into words or not, this experience is a creation in itself. Both viewer and artist participate in the creation of an artwork. And viewer interpretations or explanations of art need not strip away its mystery.
In his 1921 poem “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon,” Wallace Stevens describes this experience:
Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.
What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?
Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.
We are the world in which we walk; we make this world. Moreover, since we participate in the creation of the art we see, we will continue to associate with this art those symbols and symbolism that are important to us, in an effort to grasp what is true and strange — even in worlds we ourselves create.
(All artwork, descriptions, & other text created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.)