Meaning Of My Artwork? "Four Corners, (detail)" Acrylic. M. Stermer-Cox

The Meaning Question

“What is the meaning of your art?”

That was the question posed to me a couple of months ago during a conversation about my paintings.

Not A Good Answer.

My answer?  Well, I would say nothing illuminating or noteworthy.  Indeed, I was a bit perplexed because I did not have a simple or straightforward answer.

Meaning Of My Artwork? "Four Corners"


I would like to give you some background before I explore this question of meaning some more.  A couple of months ago, I was chatting with a woman about my artwork. Next thing I know, I am showing her some of my recent work on my smart phone. Looking at my work, the woman asked me about the meaning of my work.

Just a pause here.  This is an expected question and I ought to have a good answer or response.  After all, I have an artist’s statement, for example.  Furthermore, I have been creating paintings for some 20 odd years.

And yet, I could not give her a direct answer.  Ever since that occasion, I keep asking myself what is the meaning of my paintings?

Meaning Of Art? Anxiety

Meaning?  It Depends.

Well, the funny thing about art is that meaning to me may be different from what it is to you.  And, we could be both experiencing the same piece of art.  There is context to consider as well as what we both bring to the moment.  To put it a different way, what art means to the creator will be different to what it means to the observer or receiver.  Plus each receiver or viewer may glean a different meaning.  And that is OK; the differences are part of what makes artworks interesting.

Composing Intentions.

But, there are some clues as to an artist’s intention.  And, I think you can find them in the mannerisms of the artist.  For example, if I am a joyful mood, or I wish to convey such a feeling, my line work or gestures may be dynamic.  Whereas, if I want to express a more somber or calm mood, the lines and shapes might be static; not so active.

Oh, and then there is color!  The color composition for a painting can give you all sorts of clues to the artist’s intents.  For example, the colors in the painting “Four Corners” above are somewhat bright and joyful.  I do not know the color of anxiety but, perhaps, the bits of green hint at things not being well.

Many artists, especially those who work in a figurative manner, may use narrative to communicate their meaning.  Others like to express beauty or feeling without a storyline.  And, perhaps, some artists may want to express both narrative and feeling.

"When Circles and Spirals Dance" Acrylic painting by Margaret Stermer-Cox
“When Circles And Spirals Dance”, Acrylic. ©M. Stermer-Cox

Communication A Two Way Street.

As you may imagine, communication in art is meant to be a two way process.  So, the creator and viewer bring their own feelings when experiencing a piece of art.  It is OK to take a moment to notice how the piece makes you feel, if anything.  What do you think or notice?  What is your response?  If a painting brings you joy, that’s great.  But, it can just as easily leave you cold, and that is fine, too.  Someone else may see or feel something different.

I can understand that some paintings may be hard to understand.  And, others may not appeal to a particular viewer.  Indeed, I have trouble with some pieces too!  But, consider music: some genres of music you like, and others, well, not so much.  And, yet, every once in a while you might find yourself tapping your toes to music you thought you did not like.  It’s the same thing with visual art.

Keeping Meaning Positive.

Now, back to the meaning of my paintings.  My intention is usually to convey something positive about life.  And, I find joy and beauty in lines, shapes and colors.  Even with anxiety, it is all part of the human experience.

4 thoughts on “The Meaning Question”

  1. Hi Peggy,

    I love these thoughts. Especially, “…every once in a while you may find yourself tapping your toes to music you thought you did not like. It’s the same thing with art.” So true with many things in life.
    “When Circles and Spirals Dance” makes my heart dance. Thank you for that.


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