Conceiving an idea in visuals is a process of selection and recombination. Out of the vast store of memories and concepts in our mind a new association is formed. Creating art is thus both a discovery as well as an invention — an idea and a form. Art is about creating a metaphor.
While the form of the artwork is, to an extent, under the artist’s control, the interpretation of it is not. The semantics of images is a fluid structure, it is evolving and responding to changes over time. The same work can trigger an entirely different reaction depending on the viewer’s personal experience, their cultural conditioning and the context in which they perceive it. Systems of signs have clarified that by establishing rules and fixed relationships of symbols and meaning. Both verbal and visual languages rely on similar principles: they all use vocabulary, signs, hierarchies and grammar to form a comprehensive structure. Visual systems can act as a shortcut, providing a faster and easier perception. Fixed signs and symbols can also ensure universal understanding and define ideas with more accuracy.
Such fixed definitions should, however, be used with caution. Susan Sontag14 suggests that forcing an interpretation ultimately impoverishes the artwork, as it removes that which makes art an appealing and rich experience — the allusion to something more than meets the eye. At the core of any work of art, there needs to be a discovery. By following existing patterns, art loses the ability to surprise us. The freedom of interpretation is what enables new connections to happen and is therefore one of the characteristics of any stimulating work of art.