Words and the Way We See Art

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Art is a thing that often surrounds us. It is now everywhere: in museums, magazines, plays, musicals, pictures, movies, TV and so on. When we want to see some professional and historical artworks, we usually go to museums. Some go there to see something that they are interested in. Some go there to study the artworks. Some might go there just to kill time. Because not everyone is a specialist on artworks, sometimes there are some explanations for artworks.

The controversy about the explanations on the artworks is that for many people, it may give us biased point of view to look at the artworks. Those explanations, however, should be put together with artworks in museums because they can provide us culture, background and history of the artworks and the artist so that we can accurately situate ourselves in the history and culture.

John Berger gives us an example of the controversy in his book, Ways of Seeing, that uses Van Gogh’s last picture. First, Berger put a picture with a title, “Wheatfield with Crows by Van Gogh [1853-1890].” Then he put the same picture. Except for this time, he put a hand-written comment that says, “This is the last picture that Van Gogh painted before he killed himself.” Now the picture looked different. At least for me, it was different. I saw something that I did not see at the first glance. I felt some kind of darkness this time, rather, I think and felt I perceived some kind of darkness. Some facts about the painting that were put into my mind changed the way I looked at the picture. The painter may not want us to see the painting that way. The symbolism (in this case, the darkness and death) that I am feeling may have nothing to do with the painting. The explanations may not be something we truly want to know.

Although information may lead us to wrong way of looking at an artwork, there is a merit of having the explanations besides the artworks. For example, I have chosen the picture labeled “Sandpainting of Navajo” and...
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