Desperately Seeking Subtext

It’s things like this that make me believe that whole “Art is about meaning! Art should be meaningful!” thing is a bunch of horsecrap.

I speak, in this case, of my cardinals. They wandered onto the top favs over at Deviantart, so they’ve garnered a whole slew of comments in a short time. And while most of them are pleasantries of the usual sort, which are balm for the ego, if nothing else, and a few “No one ever expects…The Spanish Inquisition!”‘s and I got the obligatory anti-Catholic statement to be crushed underfoot, there’s a number that refer to the meaning and the implications and so forth, as a sort of verbal wink of acknowledgement that they get what I’m trying to say with this painting.

Which would be great if I was actually trying to say anything. But the entire meaning of the painting is “Cardinals (the bird) are cliche and cardinals (the priests) have snazzy outfits, and my rather questionable sense of humor thought the pun was just hysterical.”

That’s pretty much it. Which makes me shake my head over the following…

very clever. terrible implications, but very clever.

to me this shows the snoby-ness high nose of the catholic church. i also see in this work, seems religion has a tendancy to look down on others, up high, imitating god.

::Laughs:: Excellent. I like the message.

Etc, etc, etc. And while I’m delighted they like it, I find myself clutching my head and going “WHAT MESSAGE?! What implications?! All I was trying to say about Catholics is that they’ve got great hats!” James tells me that the mere fact it’s a religious image will make people start reading things into it about what the artist was thinking, but I can safely say that the artist was thinking “Cardinals. But like–cardinals. With the hats! HA! I slay me!” and that was pretty much the sum total of meaning inherent in this painting.

I don’t know why this bothers me. I am certainly not bothered that people may be enjoying it on a level I didn’t intend–however people enjoy art is fine by me, and it’s great if they find things in it that I wouldn’t have seen. Art is an interactive experience, and a painting isn’t live for me until it’s out in the world getting seen by people, and I’m not one of those who wants to cling to a painting yelling “NO! THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS! How dare your perceptions run counter to my vision!?” (I’m sure nobody does this, but y’know.) But still, it makes me think of all those endless statements I’ve seen that art is about meaning and something is art if it’s meaningful to the artist and how people would rather see meaning than skill or whatever.

And I’m throwin’ in the towel on that one, because once again, I realize that what the artist MEANS with a piece doesn’t matter–people will find their own.

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