Meaning in Art

Founder of Art High, Suzanna Gregg, considers one way to find meaning in art.

I have recently been appreciating road signs. I know; what do they have to do with art and meaning? Please be patient with me, we will get to the point soon enough. The road signs are relevant here.



British road signs were designed back in the 1960s to assist safe driving on our increasingly busy roads. Road signs are, by necessity, simple and easy to read. They are also, in my opinion, pleasing to the eye, with their simple shapes and limited colour palette. Created by an artist, these familiar designs achieve their purpose of communicating with drivers.

Now we come to art and meaning (I told you we would get their soon). Like road signs, art communicates with the viewer; it means something. The difficulty for us lies in discovering these meanings.  Here is where art and signs part company; unlike the road signs, art does not often give up its meaning readily.

Let us consider a question at this point; who decides what any work of art means? The artist must surely know, or is it art historians who provide the answers? Dare I suggest that we are able, if we choose, to find meaning for ourselves?

Perhaps for many of us, a lack of knowledge or understanding of how to read art, of how to find meaning, dissuades us from visiting a gallery. In fact this is an ideal condition in which to look at art. The old saying is true, ignorance IS bliss. With no knowledge of the official, established meaning of a painting, we have the wonderful opportunity to understand it our own way.

It may seem ridiculous to believe that we should boldly ignore the artists, experts and academics, to find our own way, but read on before you discount the idea.  We each have an upbringing, and many life experiences, which create a filter through which we see the world. These filters cause each of us to understand life differently from one another. These same filters must also, surely, determine how we view a work of art. When I look at a painting there is no right or wrong, only what I see and what it means to me.

Is this a ridiculous theory? Before you decide, try it. Go to a gallery, find art that attracts you, and take time to look at it; I mean really look, not just a passing glance. Then come back and let us know whether or not you believe that we can find our own meaning in art.



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