One of my favorite things about art is how diverse and different each piece can be interpreted. You can take one landscape, capture it in thousands of different lights: whether it varies in what season it’s taken, what the surrounding environment is like at the time, what time of day it is, or what effects are used afterwards. Each decision is based upon the interpreter and the results are taken into consideration by the receiver. One of the best examples that we’ve used in class is Frederick Edwin Church’s Cotopaxi from 1855 versus his Cotopaxi in 1862. Both images capture the same volcano and surrounding landscape, yet the mood and effect are complete opposites.
Here is Church’s 1855 version:
Compared to his 1862 version:
It’s astounding how constantly our environment is changing. It can not be prevented or stopped, but we can appreciate its natural beauty at every point in time. It is through artists like Frederick Edwin Church that we can compare and contrast these landscapes. Artists study their subjects thoroughly in effort to get every detail right. Because of this preciseness we can imagine the objects of the artwork as if we are seeing it first hand. With countless angles and copies of the same landscapes, we can get a sense for the full effect of our world’s wonders.
Many different aspects of a painting, picture, or drawing can shed a whole new light on one place. One variable to consider is the state of the object. In Church’s images, we first see the volcano as a peaceful, serene almost mountain-like setting. It’s topped with a thin white coat and bright blue skies. The tranquil looking surroundings present a welcoming scenery where one would gladly live. The modest home appears cosy and almost dreamy. Then in Church’s second version, he presents almost an angry volcano, spewing with lava and covering its surroundings with ash. The fiery red, orange, and brown sky rages over the land and replaces the once peaceful, calming blue sky. It is safe to say that most people would elect not to live here if presented with this image of the land. They would live in constant fear of their house becoming overwhelmed with ash and lava forcing them to leave. In the bottom left corner, one can see a man standing there with his companion. They stay a safe distance away watching as the volcano erupts and the rushing water crashes down through the deep crevices in the land. It’s amazing how one place can look completely opposite based simply on timing and portrayal.
Church is not the only artist to illustrate the changes over and through time. Hundreds of artists do this, but it is not limited to artists. It happens naturally and can be seen everywhere. Take the snapshots of the Earth that are taken from space.
Here is a picture of Earth taken during a hurricane:
While these are not necessarily considered art, it stills illustrates the power of nature and the effect she has on our environment. Because of this power, our world is constantly changing and allowing the same scenery to be viewed in countless different lights. No one presentation of something is the same. This allows each piece to be unique and the artist can get their exact point across. Some pieces can be intimidating and threatening while the same landscape can be also be presented as welcoming and peaceful; some can be gloomy and depressing while in another representation be full of joy and delight. This provides great mystery and never-ending possibilities in the world of art.
These vast differences aren’t just based upon the artists decisions and interpretations, but also the viewer. A viewer may take colors such as red and orange as angry and threatening, while a different viewer could see them as warming and pleasurable. It’s not just colors that can be interpreted differently by each artist; the object itself can be viewed differently. Say someone were to look at a painting of the ocean; they may see it as ominous and gloomy while another may see it as calming and desirable. One example of this difference in interpretation is Caspar Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea.
Like we discussed in class, this image can be taken several different ways. It can be taken as calming and tranquil or it can be seen as desolate and abandoned. When I look at this picture I see at as the calm before the storm. The monk gazes upon the ocean absorbing its beauty and tranquility before it erupts into a massive disturbance. These are only three interpretations. Different pieces of artwork can be taken in hundreds of different lights. It is up to the artist and the viewer to discover them.