Musings on Meaning

deemarie · December 5, 2005 7:06 am

A quick look through the Renderosity galleries reveals a mass of artwork that, for the most part, strives for aesthetic perfection in beauty. Beautiful landscapes, beautiful women, beautiful fractals. Even a large portion of the comments in the galleries remark on how beautiful a piece of work is. This all makes a lot of sense, as traditionally art is seen as the endeavor to create, for lack of a better word, beauty. Indeed, one of the many definitions for art at dictionary.com is The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. So is there a problem here? Not really, beauty can be an end, in and of itself, in the production of artwork. However, what we risk losing in the struggle for aesthetic splendor is meaning. Meaning is a slippery word to define, but dictionary.com takes several stabs at it that hopefully can help us here: Something that is conveyed or signified; sense or significance, An interpreted goal, intent, or end, and Inner significance. Clearly, any piece of artwork can be argued to have meaning, and not every piece should be a strong political or social commentary. Indeed, I often find that it is the pieces that are not as overtly blatant in what they are trying to convey that are the most interesting. On the other hand, Vicky in a temple with a sword does not hold a lot of interest for me. While there are always exceptions, and there have been some stunningly beautiful pictures done of Vicky in a temple, for the most part these images just dont have any meaning. Meaning adds depth to a piece of art and generates thought and discussion. It goes beyond artistic technique and provokes interpretation. Oftentimes a piece can be interpreted in many different ways, and how a viewer experiences a piece of art depends on what they bring to it a person educated in traditional landscape painting will look differently at a picture of a field than will someone who farms for a living. However, this multiplicity of meanings can add further to a piece; it all depends on the artists intent. So how does a person create meaning in art? I do not claim to be an expert in this field, but in my experience I have found a few methods by which meaning can be generated. One of these methods is context. Context can be used to create or change meaning in a piece on many different levels. For example, consider a piece of paper with a question mark on it. The meaning of this question mark will change depending on where it is placed if it is on a womens bathroom door perhaps it is meant to question traditional gender roles, or if it is placed next to the mystery meat in a lunch line maybe its just questioning what on earth youre actually eating. Besides simple placement (which is perhaps not as applicable in digital media), we could consider cultural and political context. A photo of a pile of shoes will have very different meaning in an American town where shoes are manufactured than it would have in Germany where photographers documented piles of shoes from the victims of concentration camps in World War II. The idea of meaning applies to all art forms and another potential example where context changes meaning is in the book (later turned movie) The Wizard of Oz. Many people have theorized that this story is actually a political commentary on the tumultuous 1890s. Clearly however that meaning has been lost to modern viewers now that is has been removed from that context by over one hundred years. Another way that meaning can be generated in an image is through conjunctive and disjunctive pairings. A pair of objects/thoughts whatever can be seen as conjunctive if they are connected or traditionally seen together, and disjunctive if they are in contrast or opposition. A little girl and a teddy bear would be a conjunctive pairing, whereas a little girl and a shotgun would be a disjunctive pairing. It is often within the disjunctive pairings that meaning can be most easily created because viewers naturally try to make sense of a scene that is not something that is easily understood. Why is a little girl carrying a shotgun? Is it a commentary on violence in school systems? Whatever meaning our imaginary artist originally meant in the creation of this piece, it has provoked thought and sentiment. Pairings do not need to be this explicit to create meaning, but on the other hand sometimes pairings are so abstract that the meaning may not be very clear (many surrealist paintings come to mind for me here but then again I have never studied surrealism). Whether explicit or more covert, conjunctive and disjunctive pairings can be used to create meaning within a piece of art. While I have advocated for the use of meaning in creating art throughout this article, I recognize that it is certainly not the end all and be all of art. Many of my own pieces of artwork have been created with no particular meaning in mind, and I will be among the first to praise a piece of art for its beauty. I do believe, however, that meaning in art is an approach to creating interesting pieces that is often underutilized in our community, and I hope that further discussion can help generate and transmit ideas about the many ways that meaning can be created in art besides the two methods that I have mentioned here.
file_327000.jpgJenna Hoffstein [bluevenus], Front Page News Staff Columnist We invite you to visit Jenna's Renderosity Art Gallery Renderosity MarketPlace Store December 28, 2005

Article Comments


GRiMAge ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 05 December 2005

A very interesting piece! I've found it very interesting and enjoyed reading it!! And thank you for helping my terminology on what i like - "disjunctive pairing" sound much better than simple "contrast"!! ^_^

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 06 December 2005

I admit, I am an artist who loves to find beauty in artwork. I love viewing beautiful works, and it brings me an inner joy to study the works of the Masters. Their attention to detail enthralls me . I am also the first to admit that I love photo-realistic images, the works of the Pre-Raphael Brotherhood are among my favorites. I love balance and harmony in color and design. Yet, after an intense course in color appreciation in college, I also value the artistic beauty within a wonderful piece of abstract art ... some of the Fractal artists are among my favorites. I also have looked at artwork within the Renderosity galleries and the fist words that come to mind are WOW! That is beautiful! Artistic beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Thank you Jenna for this thought provoking article, and a special thank you to all the Renderosity artists who bring so much enjoyment into my life each day with your amazing artistic creations. Happy Holidays Everyone! Dee-Marie

thebadwolf ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 06 December 2005

Very well written article there. Someone once said that: "Beauty is truth and truth is beauty." I have to agree with that. Many images in R'Osity gallery are simply beyond words - visually and thematically - it's nice to see you putting a focus on 'what we look for'.

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 08 December 2005

Thanks for the well written article. I love Renoir whose paintings I look at for beauty alone, but I also do like to find meaning in art work so long as the technique does not suffer. A great article!

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 08 December 2005

Hey! This reminds me of something that some guys were trying to convince us that digital art is not really art. I guess everybody has their own point of view regarding these kind of things.

nickcharles ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 10 December 2005

Fantastic article, Jenna! Very informative. I love to see works that convey a meaning, or bring certain feelings out of you. I like to try and imagine how the artist felt when they created something. I have one piece in my gallery here, where I attempted to convey my view on a very real subject. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't, but it was fun to do, and I felt good about it. Of course, I do value beauty in an artwork whether it has a meaning or not.


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