December | MYSTERY
Arcane Artistry: Explaining Process Without Ruining the Effect
By Tricia Stewart Shiu
“Contemplation” – Charles Reix
“I don’t know where the sun beams end and the star
Lights begins it’s all a mystery…” Fight test, flaming lips
Everyone loves a mystery. They do, that is, until the mystery includes our own artistic expression.
ARTISTIC ALLEGORY | LE MOT JUSTE
Artistic interpretation or misinterpretation, the understanding or lack thereof, with any piece of art has created legends out of outcasts and destroyed careers in the blink of an eye.
So what is an artist to do? Should she just sit back and let people think any old thing about her art? Or should a dissertation be drafted, to clear up any misinterpretations? Is it even possible to truly appreciate the efforts, energy and time spent on a masterpiece?
Throughout history, artists have released their works into the public to withstand all sorts of scrutiny and not surprisingly, some of the world’s most noted creators have been utterly, and in some cases, devastatingly misunderstood.
According to the “10 Most Widely Misinterpreted Artworks,” a Listverse article, Edouard Manet, Salvador Dali and even, Vincent Van Gogh were misunderstood.
Many of Manet’s paintings were steeped in the messages of social injustice, of the day, but when his famed painting, “Luncheon on the Grass,” (featuring a nude woman sitting at a picnic with two clothed men), “…was presented to the jury of the 1863 Paris Salon, it was met immediately with widespread laughter and criticism. The painting was rejected, and Manet himself was left feeling like his work had been completely misinterpreted and misunderstood.”
Although Savador Dali’s painting, “The Persistence of Memory” (otherwise known as the Melting Clocks) was widely lauded for it’s “representation of the fluidity and malleability of our concept of time and space.”
Dali merely said he was inspired by camembert cheese melting in the sun. Funny, that this misinterpretation led to public believing, “that Dali possessed an Einstein-level understanding of the theory of relativity.” In Dali’s case, the misunderstanding worked in his favor.
For years, art historians believed that the man pictured in Vincent Van Gogh’s, “Portrait of Theo Van Gogh” was Vincent, but was, instead, the artist’s own brother, Theo.
One well-known piece of art, “The Swing,” was used in Disney’s film, “Frozen.” Alicia Pezzaniti says, “Jean-Honore Fragonard had a more mature meaning in mind for his work than Disney might care to elicit.” Although the painting looks quite innocent, with a carefree young woman on a swing in a grove of trees and her young beau in front of her, its actual meaning is much more, er, adult. According to Pezzaniti, “That’s right: This beautiful work of art is about sex.”
Sometimes artists can play their own part in perpetuating a myth. In “4 famous works of art that lied to you about historical events,” many events are shown very differently than how they occurred. For example, “The Declaration of Independence,” which was painted in 1810 by John Trumbull “Trumbull actually added some people who never signed it, like John Dickinson, and omitted others, like Francis Lightfoot Lee…”
The depiction of a group of men standing around a table with a piece of paper is a gross misinterpretation of the event which, according to Phil Edwards, “leads us to misunderstand how the revolution really began—it wasn’t with a piece of paper, but with votes and the publication of a notice of revolution in various newspapers.” Not only that, but Edwards adds, “signing the Declaration of Independence was an act of treason—to add people who didn’t sign it and omit those who did sign seriously misrepresents their role in the revolution.”
There is something inherently terrifying about a mystery—and yet, there are some exquisitely beautiful elements, as well. For, it is within the confines of the mystery, that all possibility exists.
Whether notable or, thus far, unknown, art and artist will forever continue the dance of creation and releasing their art out into the mysterious world.