Painting by: Leonid Afremov
Going into a museum, I have the mentality of getting bored easily. So I roam around and scan all the paintings and sculptures until I find something that catches my eye. But when something does catch my eye, I stay with it for a while. I look at it from all angles and try to decipher it’s meaning. I try to step outside the box of open-mindedness to something maybe I missed. I let it take me over and really impact me, and if I’m lucky enough I’ll find a second work of art in the same day. But only then, when I’ve found the work of art, after I’ve gone through it over and over in my mind, do I look at the label. Because the label is not the art. And though so many artists and historians and preservationists want me to believe that “this piece of art was made to depict this and this is the meaning of it”, I just can’t agree. That may very well have been the artist’s intent, but as an onlooker of a time that I don’t understand, I’ll always-just like all of the other uninformed onlookers-interpret the work in my own way. I won’t necessarily be looking for the specific details of timeframe or the techniques that were used to make it a great work of art, I’ll just be attracted to the artwork that speaks to me, I’ll be consumed by my own perception of the image. The artist will paint one thing, and the historians will label it’s integrity and meaning, but only the onlookers of the still event will give the artwork it’s value, at least that’s everyone I’ve known.
But what if I looked at the label first. My whole concept of the viewer being the true artist and the critic go away. I see the label and there I have my first clue to what the artist actually meant to portray. I then look at the picture in a restricted way that keeps my mind in check and my imagination in shackles. The work still impacts me, but in the way that the artist wanted it to be, or maybe what the historians want me to believe the work is about. It’s a conflict of interest, knowing but not really knowing what I am looking at. I use the history I know of the piece to determine more clues to reach the overall picture. And sometimes I think that maybe there is no deeper meaning, the artist just wanted to paint a scene that he/she thought to be beautiful for whatever reason. But because I read the label first, I’m not allowed to think that for long, because I already know something about it. But I suppose without the label or history of the artwork that I know something about it already, just by looking at it. And that it doesn’t really matter whether I read the label first or not, because I’ll be impacted just the same. It’s not necessarily a thought, but a feeling.