Art Interpretation Is in the Eye of the Beholder

By Swan, Sarah | Winnipeg Free Press, October 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

Art Interpretation Is in the Eye of the Beholder


Swan, Sarah, Winnipeg Free Press


Throughout art history, there have been plenty of arguments over how works of art should be interpreted. Willem de Kooning, for example, disagreed with how feminists interpreted his 1950s "woman series" as acts of violence towards the female form.

Interpretation has always been part of art appreciation, as people always observe aspects of artwork differently, but, is one interpretation more right than another? Who's to say an interpretation is wrong? Does the artist's intent matter?

Doug Smith is a Winnipeg artist who will address these questions on Nov. 1 at the Free Press News Cafe. His recent body of work has been variously interpreted in exhibition reviews and curatorial essays.

He makes massive drawings, often up to five metres long, that contain large areas of pure graphite as well as miniscule details like helicopters, birds and marching soldiers. Smith places these details in formations and patterns that borrow from meteorological maps, radar screens and blueprints. The drawings have a uniquely intense presence, especially where tiny human figures seem subject to the whims of powerful weather.

Smith's work has been interpreted as expressing fear of totalitarianism, as being about the relationship between order and chaos, and even as religious drawings for a secular age. Several critics have compared the work to panoramic cave paintings and others have mentioned the effects of globalization.

"I've always considered that once in the public sphere -- someone, somehow, and from some inner bias, will pick up on any one of the nuances and formulate a subjective interpretation. Every piece of writing and every review has been beneficial, or at the very least has offered greater scope to how my work is perceived," says Smith.

A professional, studied interpretation can often inform the direction an artist will take in his or her work. But besides influencing the artist, a good critic or curator can help guide interpretation when the work is difficult. In writing art criticism, they attempt to collect and arrange the thoughts and ideas that come to mind when confronted by a work of art. …

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