Bucked off, failure

Does art have “meaning”? Especially a deep meaning that leads to truth or changes the life of the viewer. This is a thorny subject that has been debated for centuries. I’m not going to settle the question. (Sorry) But I can give my POV.

The Elitist view

Some say that all art does, or should, have meaning. It should educate or enlighten. It should lead the viewer to a new state of understanding. To some all art should support a cause or attempt to change the world. One of the unfortunate extremes of this is the frustrated attitude that if you don’t “get it” you are not in the privileged elite. You are too lowly, unworthy to understand.

This very high minded view is often presented by galleries and some artists in their artist statements. I can understand it, really. They are selling a product. The more elite and special it seems to be, the higher price it can command. The more collectable it is. I’m guilty of it at some level.

And it probably is more typical of art that takes a long time to produce. If you worked for weeks or months on a painting or sculpture you naturally want to believe it has some reason to be worth a lot. Otherwise, why did you waste your time? It is natural.

But I don’t want to discuss those more classical media. My art is based on photography.

Does my photography have intrinsic meaning?

Does a photograph, one of my photographs, have meaning or represent some great truth?


Sorry, that’s the best I can do, because I believe it is the right answer. Meaning, if any, is a communication process between the artist and the viewer.

Take the image with this post. Does it have meaning to you? I could write a whole post on the symbols and relations I see in this. That does not mean you will or should.


When I produce an image, it is an instant of the world seen through my eyes. But is it also interpreted through your eyes. I may believe it has significance, but I may not communicate it effectively to you. Or I may capture something I think is interesting, but to you it represents an insight or truth I did not consciously see.

That represents part of the problem. There are multiple parties involved. There is me, the author, on one side. I produce it. It is interpreted through my viewpoint, through my beliefs and vision and talent. I had a reason for creating the final image. On the other hand, each person viewing it sees something different. Some may see deep meaning. Some may only see a pleasing image. Others may be completely bored with it. Even if I believe there is meaning there I may fail to effectively convey it to you.

My thought is to say it is my failing if I do not succeed in conveying the meaning, but that is too simple. We each have our own values and history and viewpoints. You may not be receptive to what I have to say. If that is the case it is not so much that I have failed, but that we just can’t get together on our viewpoints. Maybe that’s kind of like the current political mess we have.

Do I have to bring meaning?

Ah, but there is a subtle assumption in this argument. It assumes I really was trying to teach you something deep. Here’s a secret: I don’t usually. It is often sufficient that an image is pleasing to me.

Life is multi-faceted. There are many layers and levels. Not everything has to be deeply significant and serious. Lighten up. Let some things exist just for pleasure. I am very happy with an image that I believe conveys beauty or joy or simply brings something interesting to your attention.

It is a consistent theme with me, but I believe our high pressure, hurried lives are causing many of us a great deal of stress and actually reducing our pleasure in life. I want to produce art for your wall that will give you a moment of pleasure when you notice it. Hopefully you will slow down a minute, contemplate it, use it as a reminder to look around more for what is going by all the time. That’s enough meaning for me.

So, meaning? It’s overrated. I hope my art beings you to a new place, but art should bring joy, not be a school exercise. I promise I will not score you down for not seeing all I believe there is in one of my images. Analyzing the meaning of my work doesn’t being me joy, I just want to create!

But that’s just where I am. What are your thoughts?

Why Hang It On Our Wall?

Mountain cascade

We’re all on a journey. Life is a journey, not a destination. Having guides or at least signposts on the journey helps us to hold to our path. The Images we choose to feature on our walls are representative of our signposts.

I’m not going as deep as the introduction sounds. This is not an offer to be your guide and I am not hanging out a “Life Coach” sign. My point here is that images are one of our guides in our journey. And they are ones we get to choose.

Through recorded history, and even earlier, people have made, commissioned, kept, and wanted to see images. There is something inherent in our makeup that makes these valuable to us. Why is that?

I think images help us in various ways and those ways evolve with time and maturity.. We are alone on our journey, but we are all together. Our journey is unique, but very similar to each of the billions of people who have come before. Pictures can help remind us that we are not a freak. We are a lot like everyone else. They can represent goals we aspire to or document moments we want to remember. Images on our walls can calm us down or make us think. Our moods are influenced by our environment. Our selection of pictures to surround ourselves with is a significant tailoring of that environment.

Telling a story

OK, that’s pretty dense. Let’s unpack it some. People tell me that pictures tell a story, or at least good ones should. I’m not sure that is as true as many artists think. To me a good image gives us the raw material we use to construct our own story. Story is at the heart of our being. We are so tuned to think in stories that when we see a picture we often construct a story for it in our mind. Where was it taken? What were they doing? Why was this happening? What does it mean? I’m sure most of us have found ourselves looking at an image that intrigues us and asking these questions.

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. This isn’t literally true, of course. But a picture can capture a whole story for us. The story we construct for ourselves for an image can have great symbolism and a deep meaning. Or it could just take us to a happy place and give us peace when we consider it. Looking at an image on our wall that we see every day brings us into that story we have made in an instant.

Why have pictures

What are we looking for, then? There are many reasons to surround ourselves with images. Some that come to mind:

  • Remembering friends or relatives. We want to be reminded of those who are important to us. Pictures can keep them close to us, even take us back to significant events or times. The pictures are there even after they are gone.
  • Remember a peak event in our life. Maybe it is a wedding or starting a business or graduating from college. Whatever it is, looking at the picture brings back the memory of the event.
  • Pictures can feed our aspirational needs. Maybe we love the sea and fill our walls with sea images. If we love to hike or bike we might have grand landscapes showing the areas we want to be in. Maybe it is a mountain we plan to climb or a river we want to kayak. No matter what it is, we tend to surround ourselves with images that give us a warm feeling.
  • Pictures can make us think. Sometimes surreal or abstract images serve to stimulate our imagination. Or, depending on your makeup, it may be an image with lots of detail or strong composition. They can give us a little shot of energy when we glance at them.
  • Pictures can just be calming. Many people appreciate images that are peaceful, pastoral. This often involves nature or natural things. Because it gives us a sense of connectedness to our environment. It reminds us of the natural world out there that we don’t see enough of.
  • Pictures can also give us a sense of continuity. Historical subjects or old things can give us a sense of being part of a longer story. One day I will write on wabi-sari. That’s a Japanese philosophy that reveres things that age with character. But it is a lot more than that. It requires more space than I have here.

So why do we choose pictures to hang on our wall? It varies with each individual and their situation in life at the time. But in general, good images give us a sense of place and a continuity with the longer story of humanity. Choose your environment carefully.