​Can you read too much into art?

If you've ever been the person blankly looking at your textbook puzzling how to connect a dying lamb to the death of innocence, you're in the right place.

​Can you read too much into art?

What is art? Wikipedia defines art as "a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artefacts, expressing the author's imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power." This can occur through film, crafts, music, dance, literature or paintings. The term 'too much' is subjective and will vary from person to person.

Image result for blue curtains represent depression

On the one hand, of course we can read too much into art. 'Art for Art's Sake' was the basis of the Aesthetic movement in the 19th century, whereby art was to be appreciated on its surface value. Poster boy for this movement, writing whizz (poet and playwright) Oscar Wilde, stated "those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril." Ultimately meaning that art had no function at all. Art was separated from any imposition of social or moral messages and was to be admired, like a model by a doting painter. For Victorians, beauty provided spiritual nourishment and looking around for a deviated, immoral meaning was the last thing worth pursuing.

Therefore, if the artists themselves had no specific purpose in their work, it could just mean that a fly is a fly in the novel and the 'red' candle does not represent danger anyway. Maybe the artist just liked red and didn't realise that in a 21st century GCSE English class that we would decode red for symbolising danger or lust. Likewise in Wilde's own novel, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', the deprived areas of Victorian London use Hell and Satanic imagery of dark shadows, shrieking winds, dogs barking and fire. Maybe we are reading too much into it, I do not personally think that the Victorians thought 'I am walking through Hell'. Furthermore, think of the cave men back in the day telling silly stories, which would form the basis of theatre. They did this for entertainment. So, why read too much into a bit of fun?

Arguably, maybe we are looking too little into the meaning of art. After all, art can be used as a tool to discover more about both the artist and the receiver. The receiver learns about how they emote, feel or respond to art stimulus in front of them. If you apply the idea of perhaps watching a piece of theatre, you're more likely the mistakes of others and how this has a consequential effect on another. If we are not reading in to this enough, perhaps the broader meaning of art is that it is transferable into different parts of our lives. It's not there to simply sell tickets and boast our economy; it's there to reflect life and society around us. So if we ignore that, are we essentially avoiding viewing the problems around us?

A lot to think about here, but our own rather full canvas of experience shapes however we view an artistic piece in front of us. Are the curtains blue to represent depression and act as foreshadowing a tragic end? Alternatively, are the curtains just blue because blue is a pretty colour?


Kheira Bey

Kheira Bey Contributor

A very busy bee in the world of theatre. Student at IDSA, RADA Youth Company Member, NYT Member and Arts Award Activist 2016/17. Represented by SYTS Management and ORA Casting.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 25 October 2017, 11:09 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    Great article! This also probably links in with the divide between critics and audiences. Take the film Suicide Squad for example received negative reviews from critics, but they're also audiences who absolutely love the film.

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