Interpreting one’s own artwork

Knowledge Mushohwe Art Zone
The old masters, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rambrandt and Michelangelo did not need to explain their work. Most, particularly self portraits, religious relics and other commissioned work was self explanatory and their creators hardly left any accompanying notes. A few, such as da Vinci’s ‘Monalisa’, devoid of any explanation from the artist, have been shrouded in mystery for ages.

The old masters, judging by the sort of lifestyles they lived and the amounts being thrown around for their work nowadays, clearly did not earn the true worth of their art.

The artist of today has the chance to do things differently.

For contemporary artists to be taken seriously by their audience, they cannot simply produce artworks without having the ability to eloquently explain their work.

Some artists view themselves as de facto abstract expressionists working with shapes, forms, colours and patterns and find no real reason to explain themselves

However, their art may either mean nothing to some or mean a lot to others. Many times as a professional artist, I have heard many interpretations of my work that I personally did not know about.

Because of the subjective nature of art, viewers are bound to come up with interpretation that even the creator did not ‘plant’ in the artwork.

It is by no means the duty of the artists to discourage multiple readings of their work because viewers base on their understanding and lived experiences, will always see things differently.

Viewers may still interpret an artwork the same way, but crucially may ‘experience’ it differently.

In textual reading and analysis, several viewers correctly read and interpreted that the media was reporting that one of the country’s most prominent Prophets, Uebert Angel was being dragged to court on allegations of fraud.

Based on The Herald’s viewers’ comments below the story, it became apparent that the readers were divided into two ‘camps’, one supporting the beleaguered man of cloth and the other dismissing him as a fraud.

Misinterpretation though, is not always simply because the viewer has failed to read what the creator meant.

In performing arts, some songs have been misconstrued as meaning one thing when they actually mean another, only because the artistes intentionally added another dimension to their works.

In Zimbabwe during the late 1970s, songs by local artists supporting the liberation war were ‘packaged’ with multiple interpretations.

The visual artist’s job is not to correct viewers when they come up with a ‘wrong’ meaning.

Most would happily let the multiple interpretations stand.

But when it comes to giving an ‘official version’ of the work through write-ups, verbal explanations or through whichever medium carrying the creator’s voice, it is vital that the artist is not only eloquent but also honest.

What inspired the creation of the artwork?

What is depicted in the work and what does it mean?

In what context should the work be taken in given the circumstances in which it would have been presented to the public?

Airport and roadside artists are at times guilty of regarding their work as just marketable products.

Mass-produced paintings of anything in front of a sunset or sunrise may have little meaning to them except that people like them and they bring in some much-needed money.

Regardless of whether or not a detailed explanation of one’s artwork in required, it is prudent that every artist understands the seven steps of a design process.

The first, the idea stage tells of the activities designed to discover opportunities and to generate new product ideas.

If this is to be put on paper, the artist has to tell his audience about the thoughts or experiences that inspired the production of the artwork.

The second stage, research, requires the artist to make a quick and inexpensive assessment of the technical merits of the project and its market prospects while also giving him the historical and contemporary dimensions of the work.

Conceptual exploration, the third stage, involves setting goals, criteria and measures of attaining goals in explicating information needed for the production of an artwork.

The fourth stage, concept development, narrows down and helps the artist to focus on a selected number of ‘big ideas’ or generalizations so that some unwanted ideas that were there during the early staged of the design process are cast off.

Prototyping, the fifth stage details the development of an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from.

In painting, a miniature composition, sketch or a series of studies of the actual subject may be included.

Prototyping leads to documentation, a process taken by the artist to explain the previous steps that make up the design process.

The final stage, production management is the process of producing products from raw materials.

This includes the production process itself, as well as monitoring the quality of produced products, the maintenance of the tools or machines used in production and the cost management for raw material and end products in managed.

Artists are rarely asked to produce a document detailing the above steps in the design process.

However, the artists must understand them in order to fully comprehend the meaning and symbolism associated with their work.