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Reflexions on Susan Sontag : Against interpretation

Thursday 4 May 2017, by solenne.roche@etu.univ-poitiers.fr

In Against interpretation Susan Sontag critics the overt hinking of Art. Not of the Art itself, but more concerning all the interpretations that are made about works of Art. She praises for an art that would be more about the feelings than interpretation. She uses the expression “shadow of meanings” to express what the piece of art has drowned into meanings, to the point of becoming invisible. The last sentence in this essay summerise her explanation. She believes that Art should be more erotic, in the way that it should call for the use of the senses, and be less hermeneutics.

She explains that the content took power over the form. In my opinion, it is a question of balancing both. I believe I can feel a piece of art, and it is generally the “form” that will lead my interest to the “content”. But I need both, and usually I like to have an explanation about what the artist meant. I feel like a lot of modern artists nowadays are following what Sontag stressed out about the importance of the form. On the other hand, by letting the public making their own interpretations, then appears “the shadow of meanings”. Over thinking the content might make the work less accessible. I mean that if searching for every little detail on why the artist did the way he did, it becomes mechanical. At one point in the essay, Sontag is criticizing intellectual ways of building structures and pieces of Arts. If you can see how the artist construct his works, you forgot about feelings. For me, a good example of how forms can be important is photojournalism. There are some famous pictures taken by the journalist than made the form (in the sense of feelings) more important that the content (meaning interpretations). For instance, the famous pictures of the little girl burned with napalm in the Vietnam war came out, it is the feelings that draw the attention of the public opinion and eventually changed mentality toward peace. And that, because there was no need of interpretation, it was all about feelings.

Another argument that Sontag presents in this Essay the gap that is socially created between people. Critics are usually made according to the standards and there is a tendency to intellectualize everything. I believe that it is why she wrote that Art should not be associated with Culture. Culture is maybe a word too arrogant that represents what might be at the origin of a social gap. That is why trends like pop art appeared. To be accessible and to escape interpretations.

Finally, I agree on saying that feelings should be more important than interpretation but the question is, aren’t feelings already born from an interpretation ? I mean, If someone has a different sensibility toward a work of art than someone else, it might be built by cultural capital. And if those two persons are exchanging opinions about their feelings toward the work, that might explain their feelings, if they do so they are interpreting their feelings. Unless Sontag express feelings and erotism in the way of using the senses only, maybe even our sensibilities are over intellectualize.

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