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Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau (Detail)
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  • The meaning of a painting

    by Brian K. Yoder

    Piet Spijkers wrote:
    We are back to the simpler hypothesis: meaning varies - in indeed a mysterious way - according to the perception process (and not - as it would be more difficult, or impossible, to be arbitrarily discarded as non-existent).

    That's a hypothesis I disagree with. The artist does things in the production of his art that puts meaning into the work. Either it's there or it's not. Either it's clear or it's not. Either it's on some particular topic or it's not. And of course there are matters of degree in regard to some of these as well (is it a little muddled or a complete mess? for example). There's nothing particularly "mysterious" about it, at least nothing any more "mysterious" than the product of any other complex and intricate product of the human mind. Serious artists can study the actual and non-mysterious methods by which to put various kinds of meaning into a painting.

    Now when it comes to the audience, it's entirely possible for people to "not get it" either because they aren't paying attention, because they can't think clearly, because they can't decode certain cultural or stylistic contents, or because their perceptual faculties are faulty (they might be blind for example), but none of this has the slightest bearing on the question of whether there's meaning in the work of art to be identified in the first place.

    I'm no good at reading Chinese poetry (I don't read Chinese at all) but that by no means proves that there's no meaning in Chinese poems or that Chinese poets didn't put it in there.

    -- Brian