The Arts is one of those fields that is completely open to interpretation. Unless you can actually speak to the artist to get their thoughts about a work, you have no idea what the artist is (or was) trying to say. You can apply your own point of view to their creation. You can subscribe to someone else’s point of view about what they have done. But, there is no one in the universe that can give you the true scoop except for the artist him or her self.
Being a fan of the works of Sting, I remember reading a copy of “Lyrics by Sting” in which he told the stories behind many of his verses. I found it fascinating how many of his songs I could sing word-for-word and which I thought meant one thing only to find out he had something else in mind.
Add to this blurriness in interpretation the age and condition of a work and you can wander even further from what they were trying to say at the time of creation.
I remember seeing Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the 1980s and being quite impressed but I didn’t realize until I returned there in 2005 that what I had seen was far from what the artist had created.
Centuries of environmental residue had covered up the true beauty of what Michelangelo had in mind. I had no idea until after restoration that he had painted such a vibrant depiction that was so full of life. I would love to know the stories behind some of his choices.
Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting a few friends for lunch at the Pied Piper Bar in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. We met there because we had all wanted to see the 16-foot Maxfield Parrish painting that was restored and reinstalled over the bar in 2013. It had been originally commissioned after the great earthquake and fire in 1906 and made its debut in the bar in 1909. I can only imagine the residue that accumulated on that painting with decades of smoke in a western barroom. Now, fully restored, it is vibrant and full of life. Here again, I would love to know his story behind the work. What stories could that painting tell?!
Next time I have the pleasure of buying a work from an artist or just enjoying an exhibit, I fully intend to ask for the story behind the piece. Yes, I will always have my own interpretation but it can lend so much more insight and enjoyment to know what the artist had in mind. And, as with my earlier post about the honey bee dish, I promise to try to do the same with the pieces Chuck and I share from time to time.