When exposed to a piece of art, many people seem to want to impose an interpretation on it, or to figure out what it “means”.
As different interpretations clash (which they almost always do), the debate often turns into a discussion about the actual purpose of art, which I often personally find more rewarding and interesting than debating the possible interpretations of one single piece of art (as if there is ever a final, decisive conclusion).
Many people prefer clarity and reject ambiguity. Personally, I don’t know if I agree that art is really supposed to clearly represent an idea – that to me delves into the realms of illustration, marketing communication, information, or perhaps education. I think art should have higher aspirations.
The way I see it, art must be free to expressed anything, and be open to interpretation – in fact, to open minds to possibilities. I don’t believe judgmentalism has a place in art. If openness to the possibilities of art leads to some people seeing for example a turd in a sculpture, that is part of the point – for all we know, that ambiguity could well be intentional on the part of the artist. If the artist wanted to present us with an unambiguous, clear and obvious visual presentation, they’d probably do better to go into propaganda.
For me, I think art is supposed to provoke thought, and I don’t see why art needs to be restricted to simply be representational (or even aesthetic). Terrible art, to me, is boring art which is obvious and leaves no room for thought or interpretation at all, whether or not it ends up being visually pleasing. Quite frankly, the idea of art merely being reduced to aesthetics seems rather bourgeois, as if we produce art only to decorate our homes. It would seem to lead to a world full of nothing but landscape paintings of pretty sunrises.
There is beauty in the world, in nature. We don’t need art as a lens for it, in order for us to merely observe it – that is reductive and redundant. On the other hand, if we want to make people think about beauty, and consider what it means to us, that is something that art can do for us.
With that said, I fail to see why thoughts spurred on by art couldn’t be negative, ugly or even offensive ones.
What I especially dislike is when art is interpreted impositionally, as if there is only one possible purpose or interpretation of it, or that someone’s individual assessment of it is definitive. That, to me, defies the very purpose of art.
If art doesn’t open your mind, there is no purpose for it. And conversely, if art actually closes your mind, I would not consider it art at all, but manipulative, coercive communication.
Could a sculpture actually be a turd…? Sure it could! Follow that thought, and see where it leads.
If, on the other hand, you object to the possibility of turds used in art, then your perspective seems more of the moralist kind to me, and then maybe art is not for you…?