ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Art and Its Interpretation


Art is seen as a frivolous indulgence in the increasingly utilitarian modern world where everything needs to serve a purpose. Being a part of the artistic practice—either in creation or appreciation—usually carries an additional need to defend art by building a case for its value in the world. This whole practice is done to validate art and also to validate the presence and usefulness of art in the world and to its people, an idea that is also remarked upon in Susan Sontag’s essay “Against Interpretation” from her collection, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966). This work still stands relevant today.

One of the crucial ways this validation and defence of art is established is by interpreting art. Through interpretation, multiple layers of meaning are added to a work of art by looking at the piece
beyond its surface and literal values. Sontag asserts that this process of interpreting a work of art prioritises the content of the work over the form that it takes. Sontag is also of the opinion that seeing art as merely the carrier of the content within it “violates art,” for it makes art into something capable of being consumed and used, an entity that can be categorised and typified. The undue importance of the content over the artwork as a whole disintegrates the work into components that seem to operate based on a mechanical formula that creates a work of art. This emphasis creates the assumption that the artwork can be experienced through the constituent elements of its content, rather than rightly experiencing it as a phenomenon that is undeniably much greater than the sum of its parts, as an entity that should be experienced as an indivisible whole. The idea of interpretation is also problematic as it emphasises the content of the artwork and, as Sontag writes, “sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art,” thereby urging the reader to view the work of art solely for its content and not for the overall experience of taking pleasure in the encounter and interaction with the artwork.

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