The purpose of art is expression of feelings, emotions, of meanings and ideas that are not self-evident but are buried deep inside layers of false appearances. In the sensory realm of inner significance, nothing is self-evident. Every mundane thing that appears to the outside world has an inner source that is obscure to a lesser mind but an artist deliberately focuses on a few aspects to reveal the real essence of what lies beneath.
Every work of art is built upon an artist’s accumulated experiences that bring to light the shadows of his inner thinking paradigms. This may at times find resonance in some minds and hearts that have a similar thinking while others may be left entirely untouched by it for the same reason. Quite often an artist focuses on a mundane aspect of everyday life to reveal the real motives behind them. These may not at all times be all noble and soul-uplifting but can also be governed by the darker recesses of our inner soul. Two different artists can choose to reveal the same inner significance in contrasting ways and with a different appeal to different spectators because in the realm of art, there is no such concept as ‘absolute art’ where one can proclaim with certainty of superiority of one over another. Just because an art form did not appeal to one man does not make it any less inferior because the inner significance of the work might not have found the same resonance in his mind. While it is true that the aim of art is to reveal the inward significance, art is more like a mirror where the inner conscience of each individual is brought to light in varying ways by the same piece of art. Thus while a work of art may denote or bring to light the same signifying thought, artists often employ strikingly different ways to achieve the same objective.
The underlying theme in every work of art is not the form in which it is manifested but the idea which brought about its conception in the first place. It is developed in an artist’s sense of self through his own experiential learning and while it may forever exist in an abstract form in some minds, the expression of the inner significance of a work of art is all rational in the creator’s own mind. Some of the abstruse thoughts depicted by works of art may be intelligible only to minds which have explored similar territories but an inner sense of understanding can still be felt by all who cannot grasp it’s significance at first until it is explained to them. For an audience therefore, there may be some mismatch between what idea is being signified but for an artist, these inner thoughts are definitive and he always aims towards bringing them out of the shadows. Every artist, while seeking inspiration from those who have walked before him always develops his own artistic system or mode of expression that he feels is the most suitable for illuminating the inner significance of outward appearances as he perceives them. Understanding the real significance of any art form thus entails gaining an understanding of the ‘artistic system’ specific to the work of art. It requires among all other things the identification of metaphors and the attribution of a proper meaning created by the artist. So often this also means viewing a work of art in relation with an artist’s prior works rather than interpreting it in isolation. The allegory and the metaphorical significance of a work of art may me missed or entirely misinterpreted in some cases if it is not seen with a perspective of the artist’s earlier works. Our opinion or interpretation while revealing our own inner psychological workings may at times be thus inconsistent with an artist’s views. The expression “to each his own inner meaning” becomes quite relevant here.
Thus while a work of art dwells into the inner recesses with layers rich in meaning, the inner significance is as much dependent on a spectators own psychological workings as the “artistic system” of the creator of art.
Kearney, R. ; Rasmussen, David M. (2001) Continental aesthetics: romanticism to postmodernism : an anthology. Wiley-Blackwell Publications.
Rand, Ayn (1961). For the new intellectual: the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Random House Publications.