Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Everyone has been caught in the trap. A child, beaming with pride, holds up their drawing and you haven't the faintest idea what you are looking at. So you smile and say in your most pleasing tone, “Ooooh… that looks wonderful!!”. When secretly you’re hoping they won’t require a further comment about what it is. I have a theory that this is why more people don't go to art galleries and museums. We are all afraid we wont know what it is supposed to be and we’ll end up sounding stupid or hurting the artist feelings, be it a child or an adult. This is not that moment. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter ‘what it is’ to the artist. What matters is what it is to you. The best part of any art you view is your personal connection to it. If you don't connect to one piece, that’s ok. You’re not obligated to love it . Move on until you find a piece you connect with. Once you have found one, then you have to ask yourself why. This is the part that gives us insight into our psyche. Lets start by looking at the image shown as an example. What do you see? If you don't see anything right away, that’s ok. Look the image upside down or sideways and just see what comes to you, be it an image, a feeling or a thought. There is no wrong answer.
When you find a piece of art you connect with you may see something that is personal to your specific circumstance that you have no trouble interpreting on your own. We do possess an innate ability to use our intuition as a guide to know if something specific has meaning for us. Sometimes we are just drawn to specific things. Maybe you have an unusual reaction to a recurring symbol or image that aligns in your life somehow. Sometimes we are drawn color over subject matter because different colors evoke different feelings. Like green for example is know to have a calming affect due to our connection between that color and the beauty and peace of nature. So if you happen to live in the city and have a high stress office job where you are separated from nature you might find yourself drawn to art that has a lot of green in it. I, personally, see mostly animals in my art so if you happen to see animals in the image like i do, then there are two specific sources i find particularly helpful in interpreting their meaning for you.
The first is dream dictionaries. There are a lot of ideas about the function of dreams. But similarly to the Rorschach inkblots, a lot of these ideas include dealings with the emotions, unconscious mind & memories. According to discovermagazine.com Sigmond Freud suggested, “dreams are a road map to the unconscious, reflecting our deepest desires and wishes.” “Patrick McNamara, a neurologist and dream researcher at Boston University School of Medicine, says that dreams specifically help store memories of emotional experiences….. that dreams are very good at modulating trauma and fear.” Given the vast array of ideas about why we dream there are an equal number dream dictionaries; dreammoods.com being just one of many interpretive sources for dreams. Using the painting I have pictured, i see an elephant. So i looked up elephant in the dream dictionary and to start out it stated, “to see an elephant in your dream indicates that you need to be more patient or more understanding of others. Or perhaps their is a memory that you are holding on to for too long. You need to let go of the past.” Not everything mentioned has to hold meaning for you personally. Your intuition will usually guide you into which part is for you.
The second interpretive source comes from the Native American culture. They have long placed great importance on animal guides, spirit guides and/or power animals. According to legendsofamerica.com animals, “come in and out of our lives depending on the direction that we are headed and the tasks that need to be completed along our journey. “ You can check out their website for detailed explanations of the interpretive meaning of specific animals.
Viewing art like this will give you glimpses into your subconscious mind. It can unearth repressed emotions that you need to release. It can point out strengths & weaknesses you need to focus on. It can sooth you when you are stressed & inspire you when you lack drive. You just have to be open and intrigued enough by your connection to it to spend the time to find out what it means for you. Quiet your mind as your look at the color and form and notice what part is drawing you in. It could be a feeling like warmth, security, anger, joy, discomfort etc. Something as simple as a specific color or shape can spark a memory or something long since buried in the recesses of your brain to the surface. Having the courage to face & heal old emotions and memories that come up while looking at art could be a wonderful experience. But even if it turns out to be unpleasant or harder to deal with than expected, isn't it better to have it brought to the surface & then finally release it than to hold something toxic inside for the rest of your life?