The interpretation of any work of art depends on context. This may seem obvious but it wasn’t that long ago that works of art were assumed to have only a single, fixed interpretation, and it was easy to think that when the production of art was limited to specific cultures and within those cultures was limited to specific purposes, but as works were shared across cultures and barriers broke down the original meanings were often lost or simply replaced by new interpretations. Take, for instance, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. On second thought don’t take it. It’s part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art which I’m pretty sure has some pretty tight security and if you were to take it that would probably set off a lot of alarms, and if you can manage to get around all that you’re probably already wanted by Interpol, but that’s another story.
Picasso’s painting was influenced in part by African masks which he at first dismissed and really didn’t like, but the more he looked at them the more interesting he found them, although his use of the masks for women in a brothel is very different from the cultural meanings that the makers African masks intended. And at first even some of his friends and supporters were shocked by his painting but he couldn’t call Interpol on them for that so he kept it in his studio but didn’t show it publicly for over a decade, but now it’s regarded as a major work of the Cubist movement.
Anyway that brings me around to the paintings I found on the back of a stop sign a few months ago, and at the time I really liked them but I didn’t know what to say about them. Usually it’s the opposite. Most of the time I don’t have that much to say about things I don’t like but things I do like I can’t shut up about. What I do is art criticism but “criticism” doesn’t always have to mean being negative. If you were to say to me “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything” I’d say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, and I’m glad you said it, and, by the way, that reminds me of a joke…”
And then I went back and looked at those paintings just a few days ago and started thinking about the transition from the old year to the new, which is usually symbolized by an old man and a baby, which is pretty depressing when you think about it. We come into the world bald, toothless, and screaming, and if we’re lucky we go out the same way, and, holy shit, doesn’t life go by fast enough without compressing the whole shebang into a single year?
To get back to the point I was trying to get to I think must better symbols of the transition from the old year to the new are the woman looking down with a touch of sadness and a rat looking up expectantly. That’s probably not the meaning that artist intended but, hey, what are they gonna do? Call Interpol on me?