Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

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Check out the Sutra Journal

January 20, 2016

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Here is a suggestion to check out the Sutra Journal. It is an online, curated journal on art, culture and dharma. They just published one of my articles: ALCHEMY AND THE HERMETIC TRADITION: Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung, and have many more interesting and diverse pieces to read. New editions are released monthly, so add it to your bookmarks!

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“Making a Murderer”: Authoring Fear through Authority

December 28, 2015

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Using authorship in a position of authority without transparency is an abuse of power. Authorship allows for the author of a narrative to have creative autonomy, or freedom. Often associated with the idea of the author who writes a book, the concept of authorship is founded on the idea of the author being in complete control of the world of the text, a pseudo-deity of their tempestuous landscapes. While the author is an authority of their work, not all authorities are authors. An authority is invested with power through the consent of a group. Whether the group is led by the matriarch of a family, a minister of religious affiliation, or the president of a country, authority acknowledges that an individual has the power to make decisions, often to lead and to enforce boundaries. Ideally authority is given through a process of democratic consent, however it also has historically been obtained through consent bullied through violence and/or intimidation.

When authorship is knowingly wielded by authorities to create narratives with the intention of manipulation there is cause to fear. This may be done through creating a narrative that appeals to logical fallacies, such as by eliciting strong emotional responses that trump logical analysis, appealing to vanity, de-contextualizing experiences to distort truth, or by assuming the moral (and/or intellectual) high ground. On a large scale this is the foundation of propaganda. For a time, the aesthetic beauty of Leni Riefenstahl films of Nazi Germany inspired positive emotional responses to the Third Reich with the outright intention of deflating the less aesthetically appealing logical opposition[Political Rites: Initiating Art]. While political propaganda is one of the most historically acknowledged ways that authority may abuse authorship, it is present in all layers of society.

Most recently, the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer is a clear example of how the abuse of authorship by an authority may have dire consequences on both the individual and societal levels. Released in December 2015, this series follows the legal struggles of Steven Avery over a thirty-year time period. The documentary was created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos and must be questioned in itself as a piece of authorship. However, prior to those concerns, the case of Steven Avery as presented by this documentary reveals how many people in authority struggle with imposing authority in authoring events due to feelings of morality, vengeance, superiority, and hate.

Everyone knows that ideologically a lawyer fights for the truth, but practically a lawyer’s job is to create narratives using evidence. In criminal cases, the defense must show that the defendant is innocent either through proving their inability to commit the crime, or by someone else’s guilt. The prosecution must create a narrative that is irrefutably more convincing, responding to these assertions of innocence, and offering proof clear proof of the defendant’s culpability. The narratives that both sides create do not represent the 100% truth of the situation, however they pull on concrete evidence and testimonies. Authenticity of evidence is both objective and subjective and is weighed by jury and judge.

In the history of Steven Avery, the audience witnesses, not once, but twice the manipulation of evidence through abuse of authority to convict him of crimes. In the first instance, he was accused of the attempted rape and brutalization of a local woman and was convicted of the crime despite the fact he had a substantiated alibi and that there was a convicted sex offender with greater probable cause. After serving eighteen years for the crime, he was found innocent through DNA analysis and released.

While in the process of suing the country for his wrongful imprisonment, he was once again arrested, this time for the murder of a woman. Though there was evidence that would include him amongst many possible suspects, it was also possible that some other perpetrator could have scapegoated him. However, rather than analyzing these possibilities, a multitude of situations allowing for the abuse of police, detective, legal and media authority led to Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew being the prime (and only) suspects. The coercion of confessions, the continued abuse of the moral high ground by prosecutors, the assumption of guilt before innocence that was encouraged to the media by the police prior to the trial, and the repeated witnessing of evidence being manhandled, and/or manipulated is a nightmare for any practitioner of critical argumentation. He was found guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, even after his convictions, the jury members commented that when they entered their deliberations 7/12 members began with him being innocent. One jury member had to leave due to a family emergency and three had reportedly entered the trial with the outspoken conviction of his guilt. In addition, even though he was found to be innocent of his earlier crimes, his reputation as a criminal clearly influenced the perception of his moral character as he stood for sentencing in front of the judge.

Clearly, this is just a very brief summary of what transpired over decades (and I could not more highly recommend watching the series on either Netflix or Youtube and reading up on it through other sources), the troubled legal life of Steven Avery demonstrates the power of authority over authorship. Even when Avery was clearly telling the truth, he could not stand up to the legal narratives that convicted him. This leads us to two important questions: 1) How can we develop critical thinking skills to question, respond, and search for the authentic truth rather than the attractive and easy truths? 2) How can the methods of authority be more clearly derived from critical transparency, authenticity, and ethicacy? Through watching Making a Murderer we learn more about the function of power in our modern, American society. Regardless of Avery’s ultimate guilt or innocence, the abuse of authority through the manipulation of narrative (or authorship) is clearly present throughout this documentary. It presents a depiction of authority that all citizens should be concerned by and not accept as the status quo.

Now, before concluding this article it is essential that we look at the source that inspired this discussion. Everything that I know of this case was presented by two documentarians. After immersing myself in a little over ten hours of the history, I can’t say that I have not been seduced by the aesthetics of the film. If you were to ask me now, I would say from the evidence I saw, there is serious doubt to Steven Avery’s guilt, and if I “theoretically” had been on the jury, I could not have voted to convict.  However, my opinion has been developed through the context of the film that (while extensive) is only ten hours and does have an author’s bias.

So, how does the manipulation of the documentary’s narrative differ from the manipulation that happened during Avery’s trial? First of all, the audience knows that they are watching a documentary that has been pieced together in retrospect. Secondly, the documentary makers are not authorities in the legal system and even if they do take liberties with the narrative they are not sworn to the same ethical obligations. The job of documentary filmmakers is to inspire their audiences to reveal untold truths by asking interesting questions. At the time of Avery’s trials he was not given the question of guilt or innocence by the public, he was only met by social outrage. Now, at the time of this documentary, it is my belief that he will be offered the chance to have the status of his guilt publicly questioned. In addition, new questions regarding authority figures will also be asked—as they specifically relate to the case, and as we accept them in general within our society. So, yes, the documentary is a work of authorship. But, it is not an abuse of authority because it clearly reveals its methodologies, and, rather than leading to one clear response, it calls for critical reform and accountability.

Making A Murderer: Trailer

 

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Ushangi: The Sculptor in Silence

July 1, 2012

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Located between Museum Row and Melrose, up-the-way from Farmer’s Market, and across from CBS, you may find a very, very old rock. However, to describe it as an ordinary rock would be inaccurate. It is not mixed with tar and oil holding the streets of neighborhood together, and it is not what you would find walking in the local hills to peer across the ocean. Nor is it the ten million dollar rock being installed at LACMA. Rather, it is a unique rock, with its soul revealed, its song let loose, and its heart etched free from earthly bounds.

Standing beside this rock, you will find another stranger in this neighborhood, Ushangi, the sculptor. Born in the old Soviet Union, the story of Ushangi’s immigration to the United States for creative freedom is not nearly as interesting as what he has done with that achieved liberation. Unhindered by politics, set free from culture, and mixed with an immense amount of open American country, Ushangi has found a balance between the venerable earth and the yawning sky.

When you enter Ushangi’s new studio, paintings cover the walls and sculptures stand in attendance. Within these images, mythological stories, archetypal portraits, and personal narrative meet in conversation. Color and mood mix to create scenes set in open spaces. Key to Ushangi’s work is his use of voice and silence. In each piece, there is an important story, but there is also a place of silence, an abyss of reflection.

Whether Ushangi is carving the hidden figure free from stone, pulling a new dimension from blank canvas, or teaching a class of students how to see and create, the relationship between form and emotion is examined. Color, texture, shape, and shadow are key to Ushangi’s immense amount of work. Although his style, content, and material may be varied, the underlying questions remain true to his experience of the world as a sculptor; Ushangi’s goal is to reveal what is hidden within the rock of our own eyes.

While there are countless young artists co-habiting the studios, exhibitions, and museums within the same radius, Ushangi stands separate; partly because of his classical training and cultural roots, partly because of his mature age and international recognition, but mostly because of his humor and unabashed curiosity. Ushangi draws emotional breath from stone. He does not try to create an identity for himself or for others. Rather, he strives to reveal the authentic soul, song and heart that are already there.

www.ushangi.com

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Emotional Intelligence: A Psychopath’s Resource

June 12, 2011

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There are two primary types of Emotional Intelligence (EI). The first is the “Innate Potential Model” and is defined as the “innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions” (Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey, 2007).  Each individual is born with an emotional potential, how that potential is developed or stunted may be related to traumatic experiences, culture, family dynamics, etc.

The second type of EI may be learned or developed throughout the lifespan. Developed EI was also defined by Mayer (1990) and states that “EI is a subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

In both, the innate and learned forms of EI there are four different branches that may be explored.

  1. Perception, Appraisal and Expression of Emotion
  2. Emotional Facilitation of Thinking
  3. Understanding and Analyzing Emotions; Employing Emotional Knowledge
  4. Reflecting Regulation of Emotion to Promote Emotional and Intellectual Growth

While many people unconsciously have the ability to navigate these categories effortlessly, other people find themselves unbalanced or disconnected from emotional content. This may be evident in the ability to read an audience, develop intimate relationships, inability to regulate emotions in relationship to goals, and the lack of feeling differentiation, amongst others.

Interestingly, a critical diagnostic symptoms of a psychopathy is a lack of empathy. In 2011 article by NPR, “ A Psychopath Walks Into A Room. Can You Tell?” it was postulated by “Robert Hare, the eminent Canadian psychologist who invented the psychopath checklist, ….that you’re four times more likely to find a psychopath at the top of the corporate ladder than you are walking around in the janitor’s office.”  Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is divided into two main factors.

    Factor 1: Personality “Aggressive narcissim”

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/ manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow effect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history “Socially deviant lifestyle”

  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behavior problems

As we review the list, it is easy to identify behavior characteristics that may be found in many of our acquaintances (family non-exempt). However, this does not mean that they may be immediately categorized as psychopaths. Rather, it is the evaluation of all of these factors that may lead to a diagnosis.

By looking at the extreme absence of EI, we may better understand our own areas of emotional lack, and also better understand our interactions with others. One of the reasons that more psychopaths are found at the higher end of the corporate ladder is that they have learned to manipulate and engage emotional responses of other people. However, this engagement is not reciprocal and allows the psychopath to maneuver without scruples. A contemporary example of this is explored through the TV series Dexter (Look for future posts on this series and EI).

So, if you are a psychopath looking for guidelines to fit into society better, or if you are just an average ranking empathizer, here is a list of suggestions for how to increase your EI sensibility:

1.   Become emotionally literate. Label your feelings, rather than labeling people or situations.

2.   Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.

3.   Take more responsibility for your feelings.

4.   Use your feelings to help make decisions.

5.   Use feelings to set and achieve goals.

6.   Feel energized, not angry.

7.   Validate other people’s feelings.

8.   Use feelings to help show respect for others.

9.   Don’t advise, command, control, criticize, judge or lecture to others.

10.  Avoid people who invalidate you

Below you will find links to the referenced NPR article and an online source where EI is explored in greater depth. Remember that these terms are most often fluid and diagnostic definitions and criteria do change (Check out the DSM-V for more information). In this article these criteria are being used to establish definitions to explore cultural content and behavior depicted in the media, it is not intended for clinical determination.

http://eqi.org/eitoc.htm

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/21/136462824/a-psychopath-walks-into-a-room-can-you-tell 

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Postcultural Identity and the Fashion Photography of Lillian Bassman

June 10, 2011

Born in 1917, Lillian Bassman is most celebrated for her grainy, black and white photographic work. Featured in Harper’s Bazaar Magazine between 1950-1965, her work with models focused on high contrasts and form. Her creative objective focused on pure form. However, when popular tastes in fashion photography changed, Bassman discarded 40 years of negatives and prints. One misplaced bag of 100 images survived. Today, Bassman is recognized as one of the great women fashion photographers and is still working.

Throughout the 20th century, the world of fashion has had a contentious evolution. Both celebrated for it’s aesthetics and criticized for its bourgeoisie decadence, fashion remains one of the most popular and common forms of cultural representation. In this instance, culture is defined as the attitude and behavior characteristics of a particular social group. While it is easy to comment that the attitude reflected in fashion is the starvation of culture, this reduction is a bit too easy.

Existentialism rose from the ruins of two world wars and set the stage for surrealism, deconstruction, and post-modernism. Through the knowledge of mass destruction and global culpability, the question of meaning was desperately explored within the realms of art, religion, philosophy, and other representations of cultural identity. Deconstruction destabilized meaning, but also provided an almost religious assuredness that the center is never stable. As if this instability assured a conceptualization of existence beyond the ability of humans—the religious function of the psyche found an outlet through the labors of theory.

However, while existentialism, or the quest for meaning, has been simultaneously nihilistic and the origin of great creativity, there is another factor that has shaped the last 100 years—globalization. The great American experiment has now passed the two hundred year mark and cultures have now been, not only blended, but forgotten. The fusion of races, traditions, and languages have created a clean palate to adopt and discard the trappings of culture. Americans can be everything or nothing in a simple change of the wardrobe.

In this example, we are going to be looking at Postculturalism as a theory directly related to globalization. In a community set in a densely cultural environment the traditions, expectations, and socio-economic positions have been established over hundreds (if not thousands of years). An individual is not introduced as someone who has existed within one lifetime, rather they are recognized as the son, or daughter, of thus and thus person, who is in turn related to another individual. Everyone is family, the community dictates behavior, and history is remembered.

In Postculturalism, the socio-economic boundaries are broken enabling more opportunity. The lack of a genealogical introduction enables quick movement between economic classes. However, it also means the deterioration of expectations and lifestyle. The concept of the lifespan as shared within a community follows set rituals. Whether that knowing the time to eat during the day, the season to eat ice cream, or the rites of passage into different epochs, the expectations are clearly available. This availability serves a psychological objective in providing a known framework, a system of initiation, and a guide for interactions. In contrast, a Postcultural society must either cull customs from a variety of backgrounds, or, more like, is left to find a framework from a system unrelated to culture—which is usually nestled closely to capitalism.

Leading us back into the phenomenon of fashion photography. Photography has served many functions since it’s invention. Ranging from a bureaucratic tool to high art, photography is both a method and a form of expressionism. In the case of fashion photography, the line between commercialism and art is often blended. The goal of fashion is to sell clothes. To sell clothes, there must be a reason to buy clothes. Fashion is not utilitarian and is fueled by desire. Clothes are a traditional expression of culture and personal identity. Our industry within a community is recognized by what we wear (butcher, baker, candlestick maker), and likewise an individual with the finest clothes is more important than an individual with poorer accessories. We all desire quality in life, and clothes are symbolic of our goals and achievements.

However, in a Postcultural society identity is not established through a cultural history. Which makes fashion an extremely necessary outlet for defining individual identity. A person who is in fashion, has more economic resources, and is therefore identified as being more significant within the social hierarchy. However, fashion is not just branding, it is the artistic development of “looks.” Here is where photography becomes more than a tool for communicating merchandise. The creative aspects of fashion photography create a scene that the viewer desires to identify with. The reenactment, or interaction, with changing fashions is one method to create a persona where prior content does not limit possibilities.

In looking at the photography of Lillian Bassman, we must question the appeal, but also the challenges of her images. Her photography is intensely interested in form, geometry, and high-grainy contrast. When we look at her images, we are looking through a window into another world. The world is attractive, but deeply psychological. The narrative is complex and not always neat. The extreme black and white contrast does not compromise in communicating emotion, tension, and intrIgue. The content that Bassman conveys works within the forum of fashion photography, but the physical identities that she designs convey more about our interior landscapes. Her emphasis on form took her into creative realms that the fashion content was unable to follow. Leading her to find other forums of expression outside of the industry, but also establishing her legacy as a fashion photographer who had much to say to an audience unprepared to listen.

This is a link to Lillian Bassman’s photography as featured in the New York Times.

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My Half Orange is Kind of Blue

June 9, 2011

What can’t be said about this album? Iconic and brilliant it has single handedly made generations of musicians and listeners fall in love—to fall in love with music, with Miles, Jazz, each other, it is all unavoidable. While the musicology of the album, the history of the musicians, and the it’s evolution within the genre are fascinating topics, what this article is going to focus on is the question: why the love?

This review is not going to have anything to do with chords, improvisation, technique or rifts. Rather, it is just a look and a listen of one song “So What,” simply as if it were a person. It is THE person; the half orange; the blue heart; the love and the life.

All music exists in and out of time. We’re either together, or a part. Wanting more or wanting less. Longing, holding, leaving, and silence. So much of love takes place in the silent, lonely moments apart. Even when things are close, intimate, and continuous, the silence works it’s clever way into conversations, mornings, and late nights.

And that is just it, the silence and space that defines “So What” mirrors the rhythms of love. The times when you need to listen, when themes over lap and octaves rise in response. They are all there: the breath that comes from listening, the synchronization that comes from nearness, the familiarity of the notes is shared.

But it isn’t just the sharing, it is the perfection that comes from listening. The rewards of looking at a person, not as a reflection of yourself, but as a being who is sharing a grand experience simply because that is what they want. The being-ness of life, not the spontaneity, but the depths and long moments all packed together.

How incredible it is to wake up in the morning and know that the person there has made that choice. Not for how you look. Not for how you feel or what you do. But because of all of it, and nothing. Because there is space and time to listen. That is the choice that Kind of Blue makes. There is pain, sadness, and longing. But there is love and there is choice. Kind of Blue wants you, and only you. It calls to you for love, and love knows how to listen.

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The Symbolic Function of Color in the Art of Joan Miró

June 8, 2011

The symbolic vocabulary of color has many different languages. These languages allow the voyeur to understand their experience of art and the world within a variety of contexts. Color is a vocabulary of communication as well as a process of creating. It can be understood through techniques of degree, but also articulated as modes of emotion in the lexicon of psychology. The relationship between color and symbol is particularly strong in the work of Joan Miró.

The question of how to interpret art, literature, music, politics, and basically everything is one that has been postulated, revised, and argued for millennia. Strategies focusing on form, content, source, and context are all relevant and successful methods for extrapolating meaning from experience and creation. There is interpretation that happens on a personal level and works within the context of an individual’s unique world of perspective, and then there is interpretation that is formulated in an aesthetic vocabulary that interacts with critical conversations taking place within a larger community. Though different in their origin, both personal and critical processes begin from a point of engaged response. The piece of art must create a unique experience. How this experience is interpreted within a given context becomes the grand debate.

The discussion of art on a personal level is directly connected to the therapeutic arts and may often be a guided strategy. The inner world of the individual is projected onto an external object to reveal metaphors that are challenging the development or health of the psyche. Once externalized the collective symbology of the art may be researched, concretizing internal abstract concepts into a visual vocabulary. While this description is brief and reductionary, the process is intended to be organic and address both personal experiences and archetypal dynamics. Symbols contain both personal and collective meaning, or relevance.

In contrast, a critical or aesthetic discussion of art focuses on an understanding of that those participating in the conversation have an understanding of what has been said in the past, how it has been said, and why it was or is no longer relevant. Critical interpretation accesses jargon specific to the medium, within the realms of both technique and content. Symbolism that is found in archetypes, geometry, color, and numerology all play a role within formal interpretations. In his book, Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary, Terry Bennett summarizes the principles of interpretation. These principles our listed below, however central to the action of interpretation is that the piece of art demands an interpretation and that feelings are the guide. Whether the feelings are understood as a collective or personal analytical process depends on the forum.

This relationship between feeling, interpretation, and symbolism is particularly visible in the art of Catalan artist Joan Miró. Born in 1893 Barcelona, Miró was a part of the surrealist and Spanish Civil War Parisian ex-patriot communities. However, while his work has often been interpreted as Surrealism, he resisted being defined as a Surrealist artist. His objective was to “assassinate art” or to break from the historical interpretation of what art is, or should be. Being labeled as a Surrealist would work would limit his ability to explore new territory, methods, and forms of expression.

While Miró resists categorical interpretation, throughout his work he asks questions. These questions take the form of color and technique and meditate on what the symbol has to say within a set amount of space. Specifically, Miró worked with strategies such as automatic drawing (where the hand is allowed to move freely as an extension of the unconscious), Surrealism (which philosophically strove to reveal authentic thought through juxtaposing unexpected symbols and forms), Expressionism (which applies emotional subjectivity to evoke moods or ideas), and Color Field Painting (that meditated on combinations, and or fields of color symbology). While each of these methods is accompanied and motivated by methods of critical thought, Miró’s resistance to one mode of exposition is consistent.

Which leads us to ask, just how does Miró want his body of art to be understood?

If we take away interpretation, what is left? Experience. What is the experience of viewing Miró’s art? Does this experience change? How can this experience remain active? How does one assassinate this historical concept of art? By striving to avoid classification, and by engaging the imagination.

Personnage EtoileFor example, what is the experience of viewing his 1978 painting “Personnage Etoile”? In English the title is translated as Star Person, or Star Character. On an abstract textured field of bright sky blue, minimalistic symbols work together and disjointedly to engage the imagination. Circle, star, curve, red, yellow, what is the message? Is the blue the color of the Madonna? Does it relate to Haitian Santeria, or is it inspired by the expansive Mediterranean beyond the walls of Miró’s studio? In his theory of Deconstruction, Derrida argues that the experience of deconstruction is as if, while following the inward curve of a fixed point toward a center, we suddenly find that the center has moved elsewhere. The spiral is destabilized and the interpretation is disoriented. Likewise, the experience of Miró’s “Personnage Etoile” provides just enough information to stimulate the process of interpretation, but the same stimulation resists conclusions and continues to evoke questions.

Through the interpretive resistance of Miró’s artwork we are better able to witness our own processes of interpretation for what they are, reflections and projections of who we are—internally and as a community. And what we find is that who we are is just as unresolved as the image that we meditate upon.

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Barrett’s Principles of Interpretation:

  • Artworks have “aboutness” and demand interpretation.
  • Interpretations are persuasive arguments.
  • Some interpretations are better than others.
  • Good interpretations of art tell about the critic.
  • Feelings are guides to interpretations.
  • There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same work.
  • Interpretations are often based on a worldview.
  • Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative.
  • Interpretations can be judged by coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness.
  • An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about.
  • A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.
  • Interpretations ought to present the work in its best rather than its weakest light.
  • The objects of interpretation are artworks, not artists.
  • All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.
  • All art is in part about other art.
  • No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork.
  • The meanings of an artwork may be different from its significance to the viewer.
  • Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavor, and the community is ultimately self-corrective.
  • Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own.

Barrett, T. (1994). Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company