The favorite dance of a painter is what happens after someone asks, "What makes a work of art meaningful?" or "What is the meaning of this?"
The dance has developed over the ages, not because the artist lacks the answer but because the answer so often does not satiate most people asking. Here's the pattern: question is asked, response is delivered, querent stares (if they're nice they'll try and help you out), artist stumbles on words because things just got awkward, querent looks skeptical, artist gets freaked out and blurts something vague, unintelligible or just completely unrelated.
That does sound like a "me problem", doesn't it? Well, yes. But once I recognize a pattern like that, I fall right into it.
AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
If anyone read this blog, I would no doubt get all kinds of responses to this...but the common zen-savvy answer goes something like:
A painting simply is meaningful if it is more than the sum of it's parts: that the whole somehow transcends the crude bits.
Another version I've read/heard/experienced is:
The painting looks back at you. OR The painting has a real palpable presence in a room.
So maybe now you understand why this answer is not acceptable for a lot of people. You now have a whole area of grey…a wide chasm for debate to ensue over which piece in here is meaningful. This is in contrast to the lens through which we usually view images, namely, "Do I like it?" The real reason this, "the painting has a soul" type answer is eye-roll-inducing to most people is:
1. The answer is fluid (changes even within a single viewer)
2. The answer relies on a judgement from the viewer (varies between viewers)
3. The meaning is not reliant on a single particular technique (although the meaning does arise out of the technique used). In other words, there is no hierarchy of technique aside/outside of the painting.
4. It carries the whiff of the metaphysical- and that is a polarizing whiff, believe-you-me. Yes...I suppose it is scary to think we might not know and control everything about our existence.
A lot of strange, new exciting experiences can develop if we fight this impulse to immediately dismiss that which doesn't immediately ring your bell. We might even...grow *gasp*