Out of Time

by Mark Calderwood

As time moves on, art can say something to us today that differs enormously from what the author was trying to say at the time it was created. This is especially true of historical art, created by long-dead artists from cultures lost for centuries.

Film critic Chuck Sonnenberg eloquently posed the question: “does that mean we are mistaken? Or is it valid to say that the echo of our own thoughts, hopes and fears is as much a part of what we take away from art as the image itself?

Is the question not ‘what does this mean?’ but really ‘what does this mean to me?’ If what was said is not what is heard, does that mean that the emotion felt, the thought provoked, the impetus planted, are wrong?”

As more galleries place historic work front of house, they notice that audiences find points of connection and resonance, even without understanding the nuances of hidden messages or renaissance iconography. Even the expert commentary that accompanies major exhibitions can be reductive, at best, or at worst fallacious.

If we are no longer able to fathom the intended meaning, is it valid to create one out of our own cultural mores and personal experiences?

What are your thoughts?