Teacher Resources MMoCA Collects

Finding Meaning in a Work of Art

Deborah Butterfield, Dapple Gray, wire and steel, 1980.

The meaning of a work of art is shaped by the artist's intentions as well as by the unique perspectives observers bring to the viewing experience. It is natural for art observers to seek answers to the question What is going on here? by reviewing their own past experiences and memories, in addition to looking for clues about what the artist is trying to communicate. The artist has used colors, shapes, textures, light and space to convey content in a representational or nonrepresentational format that may include symbolism and underlying themes. Knowledge of the artist's intended meanings may add to, but is not essential to, a viewer's recognition of forms and interpretation of a work of art. The meanings of an artwork emerge out of interaction between the artist's creative expression and viewer analysis.