Somewhere there is a sign (probably in the U.K.) telling you to hold your dog on the escalator. That might mean you can’t go on the escalator without a dog, or without dogs. Or it could mean the escalator won’t work without holding the dog. Or it might mean any number of other permutations of these ideas. As with a painting, you bring to it your own interpretation. The process of painting is nothing like the perception of it. Even as a maker of art, I am always fascinated by the way someone else views my work. I learn about my work from what other people see and say.
My friend Sean Kennedy began a class on Irish poetry at the Public Library with these thoughts, beginning with the quote about the dogs. I went to the first lecture yesterday. It was mainly about context: the importance, when reading Irish poetry, of knowing the social, historical, political, emotional and otherwise general context of when and how a poem is written.
I would hope that kind of context wasn’t necessary when viewing or rather experiencing a paintng. But I suppose it can’t help but have some influence. Only Mondrian painted Mondrians but there were so many copies it became something else: more like fabric design or interior decorating. But still, a real Mondrian is always a powerful painting, wherever you see it. Yet knowing the history around it can often be helpful. Still, I am a purist and would prefer that were not so.