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  • Writer's pictureDan Woodard

The Meaning of Art

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

sculpture, cement sculpture, turquoise, gold
Unknown Ritual Object Ab657

I am often amazed and sometimes impressed by artists who can succinctly talk about why they create art and what their goals and intents are. They can talk at length about what they had in mind when creating a particular piece, what message they wanted to convey, what they wanted the viewer to experience, or what their emotional or philosophical intent was. For myself, I find that I usually begin the creative process as though my mind were a blank slate. Naturally, I’m aware of what I am about to produce, but I’m generally not aware of what this piece means to me; let alone what it’s meaning will be. Rather, I continue with the process, refining and defining the sculpture as I proceed. Perhaps, the meaning comes to me during the course of creation. However, usually it is only after I have completed a piece that I find personal meaning in it. And sometimes it is only after I have finished several sculptures that I realize they are all representative of a single theme. For me, the process is more intuitive than intellectual. But by no means am I attributing a value of one way of working to another. In fact, I admire and often envy those who have a definite message in mind when creating.

Having created several bodies of both figurative and abstract work, I realize that my own work falls into two broad—and diametrically opposed—categories: alienation and complete union. I would have to say that the majority of my abstract pieces, such as “Burning Sun”, exhibit a sense of alienation. My series, “Artifacts From a Former World,” to which this piece belongs, depicts the artifacts and ritualistic objects from an unknown and former world. They represent the remnants of a society that has long since vanished. About as alienated as one could get.

sculpture, art, abstract sculpture, cement sculpture
Burning Sun

After completing several figurative pieces and standing back and looking at the series as a whole, I discovered that the majority of the men, such as “Anguished Man in Flight,” were on the alienation end of the spectrum. While the women, “Ariadne’ for example, showed pregnant women. The far end of the complete union category. I further noticed that my males were generally titled with a description of their condition, while the women were given real names. This is all incredibly interesting to me and has led me to explore the subconscious reasoning for my depictions of men versus women.

Figurative sculpture, art, figurative art
Anguished Man in Flight
figurative sculpture, pregnant woman, sculpture of pregnant woman

So, on the one hand we have the intention of the artist and their message, whether it be conscious or subconscious. But, on the other hand there is an equally powerful force, the perspective of the viewer. And, since everyone’s perspective is different, the messages derived from a creative work are as varied as the number of viewers. Each individual has their own sense of what a particular work of art “means” to them. And each person adds their own background, personality, experiences, current mental state of mind and on, and on to arrive at this meaning. And that’s good. In fact, it’s one of the wonderful aspects of art...the viewer comes to her own relationship to the art sometimes totally independent of what the artist intended. And all of the meanings or relationships that one has with a particular piece of art are valid—even if they are not what the artist intended. Marcel Duchamp summed this view up when he said: “The artist only has fifty percent of the responsibility.”

After hearing people’s reactions to my work I am often led to look at it in a new and different way. And as a result of this process, I, myself, learn more about my art and about my subconscious creative impulses. It’s an exciting and wonderful process. A process that is very therapeutic and gives me a better understanding of myself.

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