When I was at the Hip Handmade Market a couple weeks ago, I tried to start a conversation with a lady who was buying one of my paintings. First, I should say I'm terrible at small talk. This was later in the day and I was finally starting to get a little chatty. I mentioned a current event that was the spark of inspiration that led to the painting. This wasn't an abstract painting, this one had some recognizable elements to it. I'm not sure how to describe her reaction. She wasn't offended really, she just wasn't interested in that topic. I immediately regretted that I'd brought it up. It was her painting now, it could mean whatever she wanted it to mean. I felt like I ruined it for her.
Remembering that incident, yesterday I posted this question on Instagram...
Click over to read the comments because we had a great conversation. Overall people said that they liked to hear about the artist's inspiration and process but that they'd form their own interpretation.
Speaking from my own experience, especially with abstract works, once I get an image in my head I can't NOT see it. Here's an example. A few weeks ago the amazing artist Michelle Armas posted this asking for titles.
There's 130 comments on it now but when I saw it, there were only four. The very first one was "the hand that feeds you." I read that and then could NOT come up with my own title. I counldn't UNsee the hand.
A few years ago, I did a lot of digital collages. I'm a fan of type so there were always some letters and numbers in them but no words. People often asked me what the letters and numbers meant. I wouldn't say. Why? Because even though there was meaning behind them, it wasn't that interesting. The possible meanings that the viewer came up with were SO much better. Leaving it a mystery was the best decision that I could have made.
In some instances, I think knowing the meaning and inspiration behind a piece allows me to understand and appreciate it even more. In other cases, I think it can diminish it and sometimes even ruin the experience. As an artist, how are we to know? And what should we do?