Contemplation, inspiration – Are we observing art or interpreting the artist?

It seems like ages ago that I went to the Goodyear Arts exhibit, but the thoughts the experience left with me have not changed.  In such a naked exhibition you are truly seeing the artist in their entirety, often in their own workspace!  Drafts are strewn on the tables, wire cuttings and clay mar the floor, and what is UP on the walls could be a finished project or just an experiment. I had a different mental, emotional and physical reaction to EVERY new space in the exhibit, and it’s hard to go to a gallery like that and NOT find yourself wondering how to give all the artists equal appreciation.  Is every exhibit even deserving of equal appreciation?  How do you decide?  This prompted me to find a quiet corner to journal in and ask more questions, and at the center of these questions was the one that prompted my title.  

When we express a reaction to an artists work are we observing the art,

or actually interpreting the artist?

When you talk about Van Gogh is it because you studied him, or his art?

For the purpose of discussion, let’s get on the same page about what is meant by “interpretation” and “reaction” (I understand that these change in different context). 

Reaction: Everyone reacts to art initially. Even the absence of obvious reaction is a sign of a reaction, but only if we include ALL of our senses in the list of possibilities.  The way our brains work it is more likely that your BODY will react to a stimulus before you can form a conscious thought.

Interpretation: I’m thinking of interpretation as the relevant application of a thought that comes from an observation, like that of appreciating a piece of art. By the time you’ve made a decision about whether you “like it” “don’t like it” or “are not sure” you have already filtered your reaction, beginning with your body, to the point of a comprehensible sentence in your native language, and your filter is YOU. Your WorldView, Presuppositions, etc.,  That phrase will then be followed by what you will DO about it rather quickly. Will you move on? Will you include a friend in your observation? Will you buy the piece? Will you review the dance?  And each of those actions is the result of, you got it, an interpretation.

So, for me, I think I would answer yes to my first question. I DO think that there is a strong sense in which a person’s observation of a piece of art is actually also an interpretation of the artist herself in some degree.  How does that make you feel?  Would you LIKE to be “interpreted”?  With no rules? 

This is really where I begin to think. EVERY other academic discipline, the sciences, humanities and literature have very strict rules for interpretation, but it is often the arts which produce contrary or avant garde ideas that can change the rules.  In other words, the arts change PEOPLE.  They are formative.  This art exhibition changed me!  So, should art appreciation be governed by rules?  Would that restrict artistry, or make it more popular? 

If I’m honest, my observations in the business world, religious studies sphere and stay-at-home parenting circle would suggest that more people might turn their creative juices to something artistic if they knew there were rules to protect them from attacks and negative criticism.  Do you want people to behave according to the rules when they interpret YOU and observe YOU? Why? Why not? 

And it is here that everyone will have a different idea or opinion and I’d like to hear them!  What do you think of my questions? My interpretations? Why should I care?