Not Against Interpretation

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In "Against Interpretation," published in 1966, Susan Sontag argues against specific approaches to interpreting an artwork that reduces it to an exploration of its content. Sontag claims that an interpretation tries to squeeze more meaning into the content than is already there in the form of the artwork. Hence, Sontag claims, an interpretation of content devalues the sense of form. Sontag asserts that the content consists of the "prescriptive" (12) ideas of an artwork that enable a viewer to arrive at an artist's "picture of reality" or "statement" (4) through an interpretation of its form. In turn, form is the "descriptive" (12) elements of the painting - such as figures, colors, and lines - that should be, in and of themselves, enough to evoke a response in the viewer. Sontag considers this response to the form of the artwork the evocation of its "thing" - the experience of the artwork as it is. It is this individual and unmediated experience of art she considers the stuff of magic, claiming that an interpretation transforms a possibly "incantatory, magical" (3) experience of the artwork into a "portentous" interpretive one. Therefore, Sontag urges viewers to curtail the inclination to interpret the "content" of an artwork so that they can experience its magic - such that it provokes a magical experience (14).

Last updated on 04/14/2022