Although to indulge in an artistic experience, one may need to use not only vision but also other senses, possibly all five, how people see an art piece usually becomes the defining factor in their further evaluation and impression thereof. In his article “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger addresses the issue of restrictions that prevent people from seeing an art piece in its true form, including hidden meanings that it may contain. Although impediments toward understanding an artwork are extraordinarily numerous, most of them can be defined as either social or cultural, i.e., people’s need to view artwork from the perspective of their cultural or social background (Berger 16).
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Barriers: Paintings and Movies
On the surface, paintings might seem like the easiest form of art to perceive since they incorporate a substantial amount of visual content that is dynamic, in contrast to pictures. While the specified misconception is not egregious, it does lend its way to a much looser interpretation of the messages that are incorporated in films, mostly because the range of information that is thrown at the viewer, from a vast number of visuals to a huge array of sounds, is truly vast. Looking at movies as a medium closer, however, one will realize that their perception is also shaped greatly by how their ideas are framed, how certain scenes are shot, how actors are directed, etc. As a result, the opportunities for misreading the information that the movie offers to a reader are only limited by the knowledge and cultural background thereof.
Social Factors: Class and Education
When considering art pieces, one must keep in mind that they do not exist in a vacuum – instead, every artwork is viewed from the perspective of a particular culture, i.e., a set of values and philosophies (Berger 21). As a result, an art object is framed respectively, with every element being interpreted based on how similar items are defined in the said culture. As a result, social class and education play a huge part in creating barriers to understanding art and exploring the aesthetic properties thereof.
The specified phenomenon becomes especially visible when comparing the response produced by different audiences to Impressionist and Modernist art. Whereas Impressionism, which contains the elements that can appeal to general audiences and a popular concept of aesthetic pleasure without the necessity to dive into the history of an artwork and its creator (e.g., Claude Monet’s “Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies”), the Modernist art (e.g., Chagall’s “Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers”) does not have the general popular appeal and, thus, contains more barriers to understanding (Kleiner 841). To develop a connection between the latter type of artwork and the viewer, one will have to learn the history of the painting, as well as the trials and tribulations experienced by the author.
Time Factors: Era and It’s Standards
However, apart from a deep insight into the culture-specific issues, one also has to consider the history of art and the social standards that were dominant at the time. It would be wrong to claim that the appreciation for specific viewpoints that were typical of a particular period will allow for a better understanding of the author’s intent. Quite the contrary, the art pieces that stood the test of time were often contradictory to the ideas that were voiced by the majority on the specified time slot and, thus, had a much better-staying power.
For example, the shock value of “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans” has worn out its welcome over the years. As a result, what used to be considered a provocative and challenging artwork was finally turned into a relic that needs to be appreciated for its message, yet no longer has the shocking effect that helped it warrant its title of a masterpiece (Remes 46).
Culture-Related Factors: Difference in the Perspective
Social factors such as class have a tangible effect on people’s vision of art pieces, yet culture-related ones have an even greater effect, and nowhere is it seen just as vividly as in people’s perception of movies. However, deconstructing the factors that contribute to preventing an audience’s vision from developing fully, one should make the changes in the perception of media, in general, into account. For this purpose, the role of an author in the representation of artwork needs to be addressed.
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When considering movies, one should keep in mind that there are different ways of looking at the messages that films contain. Some schools of thought support the idea of an authors’ intent being the ultimate authority to which one must refer to embrace the array of meanings contained within an artwork. The identified assumption culminates in the auteur theory, which favors the intent of the author over the interpretations of a film by audiences and critics (Yacavone 216). From the specified perspective, the vision of the audience is dismissed, which blocks any opportunities for viewers to deconstruct the message of an art piece from their perspective and, thus, poses a significant obstacle to audiences forming their vision of an artwork (Yacavone 217).
Death of the Author
Coined by Roland Barthes (Slethaug 22), the concept of the death of the author, in turn, implies that the author’s intent is completely irrelevant to how an art piece is viewed by its target audience. While the specified approach gives a great artistic license to viewers in terms of rendering the hidden layers of meaning within an artwork, it also strips an art piece of its history, leaving the audience to judge it outside of the context of its period and culture.
Even though with the present-day availability of information due to modern media, the misinterpretation of the intended meaning of an art piece and, therefore, an entirely backward vision of an artwork does not seem a possibility, the specified concept can be viewed as a legitimate barrier to understanding the meaning of a piece of art. By placing it outside of the context of its creation and the intent of an author, one deprives it of a significant layer of meaning.
Framing in Movies
Depending on the culture to which they belong, people tend to frame movies in different ways and, therefore, see them from different perspectives. The specified issue becomes evident when considering the films that address interpersonal communication, the norms of which vary significantly from one community to another even within the boundaries of a single culture. The specified phenomenon shines through especially clearly when the rest of the films made in the same genre avoid originality and tend to use the same formula that made them popular in the first place.
For example, in The Graduate, the tone and the overall silliness of the movie, which was perceived at the time as a romantic comedy, blocked the viewers’ vision of more serious and subtle ideas and themes. Particularly, in the ending scene of the movie, the sudden shift in tone and expressions on the characters’ faces was viewed as unexpected and contradictory to the rest of the movie. The uncomfortable silence, in which the characters were sitting in a bus after their triumphant escape, as well as the hostile and indifferent expression on the faces of the people surrounding them, seemed completely out of place after a series of comedic antics.
However, after closer inspection of the movie, one may realize that, unlike romantic comedies that were mass-produced at the time, The Graduate went a bit further and took risks by questioning the implications of the characters’ choices (Lynch). Thus, by framing the movie as a silly romantic comedy, the director made the meaning of the ending extraordinarily elusive to the vision of the viewer, making the movie complex and thought-provoking.
Similarly, the movie Her is often referred to as a perfect Rorschach test (Rosen). It is quite peculiar that there is no right or wrong way of viewing it; however, based on the audience’s background and cultural baggage, it can be interpreted as either a charming romantic story or a terrifying tale of a slow descent into madness experienced by a socially inept man unwilling to build relationships with others (Rosen).
The movie is framed in a way that leaves the freedom of interpretation to the viewer. As a result, it is very hard to tell whether the director built unbelievably high barriers for interpreting the art piece in question, or whether the barriers were lowered too much as to make the artwork accessible by anyone and, thus, entirely timeless (McLuhan 64). The movie is especially topical nowadays, when the Internet has become the most commonplace for communication, and where social platforms as a means to converse oust a face-to-face dialogue. Thus, She adds an extra barrier to perceiving its hidden messages, i.e., the belonging to the IT culture and the challenges and threats that are linked to it.
As a medium that is based mostly on vision, movies help explore the significance of the vision of their audiences, as well as the barriers that people have to overcome to see the variety of meanings, including explicit and implicit ones, that films contain. Therefore, like any other art form, movies must be studied to understand how the vision of audiences shapes over time and how it is affected by cultural, social, and other factors. In the realm of a multicultural environment, it is necessary to convey messages in a way that people can understand, and a detailed analysis of audiences’ vision and by what it is shaped will allow for an in-depth exploration of the phenomenon.
Vision as the perspective from which the audience views an art piece is an acquired phenomenon that can be shaped and developed based on the content to which the said audience is exposed. Furthermore, vision is not the ultimate goal that has to be pursued to gain a better understanding of specific art pieces, though it can be viewed as such. Instead, vision needs to be regarded as a phenomenon that shows how people view art, as well as what affects their interpretation of artworks. Studying vision, one will be able to understand the impact of cultural and social factors, as well as learn to control the influence thereof to develop and improve one’s vision and be able to see hidden meanings that elude others’ understanding.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin, 2008.
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: Backpack Edition, Book E: Modern Europe and America. Cengage Learning, 2015.
Lynch, Dennis. “How ‘The Graduate’ Ending Became One Of The Best Scenes In Cinema, Mike Nichols Remembered.” International Business Times. 2014. Web.
McLuhan, Marshall. Media Research: Technology, Art and Communication. Routledge, 2014.
Remes, Justin. Motion(less) Pictures: The Cinema of Stasis. Columbia University Press, 2015.
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Rosen, Christine. “What Do You See Here?” Slate. 2014. Web.
Slethaug, Gordon E. Adaptation Theory and Criticism: Postmodern Literature and Cinema in the USA. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014.
Yacavone, Daniel. Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema. Columbia University Press, 2014.