There are many things in life that we learn – some of those things are great truths and some are rather mundane. Not going to see an Adam Sandler movie is something I have learned that would be an example of a mundane truth. The greater truths can come to us in an epiphany or can take years to fully understand.
Well, as young artist I had an epiphany that has also taken me years to fully understand. One of the first times I sold a piece of art, the lady who bought it kept telling me about all the wonderful things she saw in it. But most of what she said she saw had nothing whatsoever to do with my intentions or ideas in making the painting. And that was when I had the epiphany – that the meaning of a piece of art is established by the viewer, not the artist.
This bothered me at first. I wanted to control what people saw in my work. I did not like the idea that someone saw a giant dog in the clouds of one of my paintings. I did not want to hear someone say “This landscape reminds me of a forgotten battlefield.” I wanted everyone to see only what I meant for them to see. I thought that if people didn’t get the exact emotion out of the painting that I was trying to put into it then I had failed somehow.
As I have grown older and my ego has grown smaller, I can now see how much better it is to let people bring their own experiences into things. Their fears, their happiness, their fondest memories… these things can make my paintings far more meaningful than I could ever hope make them on my own. Now, in fact, I love it when someone tells me that one of my paintings makes them think of some personal experience or emotion that has nothing to do with what I was thinking of when I made it. For me this is what gives the painting a life of it’s own, a life outside the limits of my experience.
I guess a good piece of art is like a mirror – in that every person who looks into it is going to see something different.