logo

Interpreting Artwork (right or wrong before and after creation)



Some time ago I published a picture that I had drawn to send one message and several months later realized that it would probably be misinterpreted by people on the opposite end of the political spectrum to mean something else completely. Now I won't tell people which picture it is (partly because people could probably assume it's just about any picture I've shown publicly and if people looked through my gallery trying to guess which one it was it will force them to think more).

On the other hand more often than not I come back to picture several months or even years later and realize what I may have subconsciously been saying (thankfully my subconscious and I always turn out to be on the same page about values and political statements despite what can later become obvious misinterpretations). Even just for the artist (never mind the people who are looking at the artwork) it's a pretty amazing window into a persons subconscious mind and what it might have been working on at the time. A few times coming back to interpret my own work later reveals some very powerful ideas and concepts that I've only just started thinking about consciously were something that my subconscious mind was fully aware of and working on before.

While one could argue that I'm looking at the artwork later through a different lens (and given the fact that I came up with that interpretation months or years after I had drawn the picture in a sense they are absolutely right if for not other reason that I might not have been ready to be consciously aware of the interpretation at the time, or even if I was it doesn't change the fact that I wasn't conscious of it then and I am now) and there for I'm just seeing what I want to see (just like every other human being on the planet).

There might be a infinite number of interpretations for a given work of art, and they all tell you as much about the person making the interpretations as what was going through the artists mind (even if they weren't consciously aware of what they were thinking beyond this is a fun concept to play with). When someone looks at any piece of artwork misinterpretation just comes with the territory, it doesn't matter if you are exploring the nature of existence itself, making a political statement, suggesting something about love, war, hate, and peace, or saying something no one else has ever thought of.

As an artist I say please feel free to interpret my artwork give your brain a work out, but remember I'm the only one who can really know for sure what I was saying with those pictures and the only way anyone can know for sure is for me to tip my hand, and who said I consciously know the answer to that question yet.

Not every artist would be willing to admit that they didn't know what they might have been trying to say at the time (at least not consciously), or maybe that there might be one or two pictures that they'll never know the meaning of (besides that they had fun producing aesthetically appealing result) but then again not every artist is bold enough to welcome not only correct interpenetration but misinterpretation with the understanding that the way people interpret and misinterpret their artwork says more about the people from who those (mis)interpretations come than it does about the artists.

I invite people to interpret and misinterpret my artwork because while I am the only one who knows their true meaning, peoples interpretations and misinterpretations will help to show those peoples true colors. And I ask all artists reading this regardless of what type of art they create to welcome misinterpretation and remind everyone that the only person who can correctly interpret your artwork for certain is the person who created it.
2012-present E. S. Pfahl. All rights reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means - - graphic electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, information storage and retrieval systems - - without written permission of E. S. Pfahl