I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the exasperated question, “but… what does it mean?!” Both in relation to my own practice and that of other artists. It’s either that or “what’s the point of it?!” *see previous text.
It is a fanciful notion to believe that artworks contain meaning within their physical fabric; as if the artist has somehow managed to an encase an idea within an object – nonetheless, that wholly naive assertion is posited by many people, artists among them.
Even if they had managed such an alchemical feat, therein lies another problem; the unrealistic expectation of many a gallery-goer – a release of that meaning within five seconds of being introduced.
The art object can only ever present the viewer with its lineage – evidence of the material processes and/or references which brought them into being. They are for all intents and purposes ‘dumb’ objects; the remains of a process we are not often privy to.
Quoting Lawrence Weiner; “Artworks are Explicit not Implicit.”
In that way all an artwork can ever be is a ‘flashcard’ of sorts – triggering the viewer to cross reference what they are seeing with what they know and everything they have ever encountered.
Meaning is something distinctly different; and is derived from the usage the viewer has for it, either upon encountering the artefact in the first instance, or perhaps even years later when a further encounter connects to another half forgotten dot.
To paraphrase the American artist Glenn Ligon; if the viewer had more information about the objects and imagery they are presented with, they probably would have a richer experience – but the same can be said for everything in life.