Interpreting and analyzing the artwork created by other people has always been a challenge for me. Who am I to say what the artist or author symbolically represents with their work? Previous English teachers would always try to explain what an author “really” meant in their work. Such claims frustrated me because I believe that no person has the right to critically analyze his work except himself. Susan Sontag’s view of interpretation is very similar to mine. In her essay Against Interpretation, she explains the importance of experiencing art, rather than dissecting every detail.
I’ve always believed that art interpreters are bored people who excessively analyze artwork. Sontag agrees that, “Interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone” (Sontag 656). Today, almost anything can be considered artwork, which leads to the scrutiny of most works of art. Sontag believes that criticism should be “The aim of commentary on art now should be to make works of art- and, by analogy, our own experience- more, rather than less, real to us” (Sontag 660). I agree that people desensitize artwork by overanalyzing and picking it apart.
She believes that it is artwork if it makes you actually feel some sort of sentiment. The Sontagian interpretation process is good because it bases the status of artwork on personal emotional experience that comes from art, rather than dissection of the piece of art. My example of a Sontagian definition of art is a song that makes me smile and cry at the time. It brings out the joy of memories and the sadness of forgetting them as I grow up. The song is called Graduation by Vitamin C and is a work of art that anyone who has graduated from high school can relate to.
It’s about the struggles of moving on as time changes, and the friends lost along the way. I have shared many emotional moments with my best friends while listening to this song. Graduation holds a very special place in my heart because it helps me relive high school memories, and deal with the changes in my life. The song begins, “So we talked all night about the rest of our lives. ” This brings back the anxious feeling that I had throughout my body on the night of high school graduation. Not knowing what lies ahead for the rest of my life is still one of my biggest downfalls.
Just thinking about deciding the rest of my life is a scary feeling. There are so many different paths open to me right now that choosing my major is even overbearing. Unlike me, many of my friends already know what they are doing for the rest of their lives. My friends that I grew up with are a huge part of my life and leaving them was the hardest part of going to college. The line, “No more hanging out cause were on a different track,” makes me miss my friends so much. It saddens me because I realize that we are all losing touch, though we vowed not to.
It disgruntles me that we aren’t able to go on different tracks and still keep up a correspondence with each other. I’m disappointed in myself for expecting my friends to make contact and blaming them if they don’t. Though we are growing older and farther away, there are still memories of the fun times we’ve all had together. “Laughing at ourselves thinking life’s not fair,” is a line that describes the typical teenager. I always smile subconsciously when I hear this line because I can’t count how many time I said, “life’s not fair” in the past.
The fact that I thought life was rough when I was younger humors me. Now, I can appreciate the lessons my parents taught me, no matter how unfair they were at the time. Vitamin C follows that line with, “And this is how it feels…” which gives the listener a minute to reflect on his or her feelings. Sontag writes, “What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, hear more and feel more” (Sontag 660). This work of art allows me to open my senses and get in touch with my emotions.
The final important emotional point is toward the end of the song, “Will the past be a shadow that will follow us around, will the memories fade when I leave this town? Lightness in my heart is felt when I hear this line of the song. It feels as if my heart is either sinking or floating, but I’m not sure of which one. Are my lifelong memories really just shadows that I can’t get rid of? I feel the memories slowly slipping away as my life gets busier. It’s sad that I am forgetting memories already because I only left for college seven months ago.
The reality of constant change sets in because I don’t usually take time to stop and look at the changes in my life. I know I will keep returning to “this town” for holidays and summer break, but it will never be the same. The faces will change; new businesses will take over the places I loved to go in the past. I feel slightly sullen now, but there is a glimmer of hope that the new memories I make will be worth the gradual growth from the old ones. There are a variety of emotions that this song opens me up to, and that is what makes Graduation a true work of art. Sontag’s “Against Interpretation” really opened my eyes to the world of art.
I’ve never thought deeply into the meaning of art because I too, thought interpretation was unnecessary. The saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is relevant to Sontagian interpretation. Art must be moving and stimulating to the senses. It’s not about the deep meaning or symbolism, but how art affects the person experiencing it. This doesn’t draw a bold line between art and non-art. No one can decide what defines art because it is a very personal and different experience for everyone. I don’t expect everyone to think Graduation is art because it makes me feel, and that is all that matters.