The Viewer

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I posted the final version of this piece on Facebook. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to start to market myself and my work a bit more aggressively than I had in years past (see: not at all). Someone with whom I am slightly acquainted–our connection to one another arose from my best friend’s murder–commented that she really liked the butterflies. With help from another friend, she was gently corrected that, no, they are moths. Oh well, she said, I will interpret them as butterflies, even though I guess I can see how they might resemble moths.

One of the hardest things for me as an artist is dealing with how people view my work. As a kid, I doodled faces all the time, and others were always asking, “Who are your drawing?” No one, I would mutter, curving my arms around my subject matter protectively. It was seemingly very, very important that I identify who the picture was of, and that made me even more resistant to letting people see my work, particularly when it was unfinished. In college, I took a fair amount of Art History classes, finding the analysis of paintings to be fascinating, and that put me on the other side of the canvas, so to speak. Instead of making it, I was viewing it, and I assigned information to what I viewed based on perceptions shaped by education in the subject. I wondered what the artists would say about criticism and interpretation of their work by people who were born hundreds of years after the works were created.

So, on one side of the table, there’s the artist creating their work, and on the other side there are educated viewers applying theoretical criticism. There’s another sliver on the table, though. People who are ignorant and think that interpretation of a work is open to any viewpoint. The piece features numerous moths, not butterflies. I researched moths, not butterflies. It is a driving point–the piece is not dealing with re-birth (commonly associated with butterflies). My acquaintance who insists she sees butterflies is making an argument that might pair well with an insistence that the sky is actually pink. It is so far off the mark that it is inarguable.

Further engagement with this person would be fruitless; it is a version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, except that it might stop before the child in the crowd pulls the scales from everyone’s eyes. Privately I wonder if this person is aware of how uninformed they sound, or if their opinion is something so exalted that quality is not a factor. I am also reminded of something my father often warned me about. He would say that the most dangerous person in the world is one of moderate intelligence, who knows just enough to know that they are not intellectually superior. That person, my father would say, will fight to the death to preserve the false image that they are more intelligent than they really are.

They are moths, and the sky is blue.

 

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