When a young woman once asked me what my art meant to me, I have to say I was stunned wordless.
It’s one of those questions every artist must receive sooner or later, but I honestly had no idea how to answer it to her satisfaction. Of course, like all hobbyists, I have certain reasons for doing what I do. I like sharing my imagination with the world, I hope it inspires some feeling or reaction in people, and I love me some dinosaurs and sexy ladies. However, my intuition suggested this girl wanted an answer more profound and philosophical, the kind expected from pretentious hipsters. And I couldn’t pull off a hipster persona to save my life.
I don’t know exactly how I answered my inquirer, but I believe I was more honest than profound about it.
Part of the problem might have been that “meaning” itself has a vague meaning (yeah, the irony is strong in that wording). If I had to guess, it typically connotes either the artist’s own intention in creating the artwork or how the audience interprets it. Some artworks and literature have clear agendas, such as political cartoons or George Orwell novels. By contrast, a lot of the abstract “modern art” that fills up the museums seems designed for openness in interpretation, though personally I find most of it stinks of obnoxious pretentiousness. And then you have people reading messages into works that the author probably didn’t intend. Recently The Mary Suepublished an editorial claiming that Kylo Ren in the recent Star Wars sequel represented “toxic masculinity”, as if the Dark Side of the Force had to be gendered male (no, I don’t get it either).
That goes to show you that no matter what you think your art means, you have at best limited control how others will analyze and interpret it. Human beings, by virtue of the same creativity that inspires our art in the first place, have an unmatched talent for inventing their own perceptions of things. That’s also why we have religion, political ideologies, and all other contrasting views of life and the world. We can and will create meaning out of anything, even nothing, and then proceed to evaluate reality through the lens of that meaning. Which is to say even if I don’t see much “deep” meaning in what I do personally, my audience might not see it the same way.
So I guess the take-home message is that meaning will come to your work even if you didn't start out with it.