Against Interpretation #2

The title of this series is inspired by the seminal essay by art critic Susan Sontag written in 01966.

“… Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable. …”

Art is more than its intellectual explanation. It is an experience, a sensual, emotional, and spiritual interaction.
The urge to interpret, she argues, is “the revenge of the intellect upon art,” the revenge of the mind against something it cannot easily contain:

“… Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world — in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn the world into this world. (“This world”! As if there were any other.) …”

Sontag proposes that we need an “erotics of art”:

“Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there… Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life — its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness — conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.”

Read the full essay (9 pages) here: [PDF link]

For more on the erotic nature of part of our artwork, see Reflecting ambiguities