Diving into the Thoughts of an Artist

Stan McLygin
5 min readAug 24, 2021

Art always evokes emotion. It could be awe from a landscape painting or an awakening to social issues. Art may also help people better appreciate mundane events or simple objects. It also helps to point out what’s not easily perceived or felt. Artworks can help people understand their value by forcing them to reexamine their views on particular subjects.

Artists often reveal their creativity because they feel strongly about an expression. They want to share that feeling in a tangible way to somehow arrive at a resolution. In some ways, their personal expression can inspire others who have the same thoughts but are afraid to share them. This way, artists’ messages can inspire a sense of encouragement and purpose.

Aside from sharing a thought or eliciting an emotion, art can also serve as a record of historical events. Additionally, it can put literature into visual form and teach a lesson that written or verbal methods can’t deliver. Artists also have the freedom to distort reality to share a more profound message. If they remember them, they can even convert their dreams into an illustration.

However, some people still view art as decoration. But that thinking is flawed because people change decorations from time to time. On the other hand, a well-done artwork is never out of season.

So, how would artists like their audiences to behave when they view their work?

How Artists Want People to Look at Art

Artists’ expectations of their audiences boil down to four questions. First, what does the illustration explain? Second, what was the artist’s reasoning for coming up with the artwork? Third, how do other people look at the artwork? Finally, what’s the personal message for the one viewing the artwork. The answers to these questions may occur immediately or iteratively. But in addressing these questions, here’s what art enthusiasts must do.

The viewer must start by thoroughly looking at the artwork and remembering their first impressions. Then, they must clarify the subject matter of the painting. Next, the viewer must note more specific details like the colors and materials used, the size of the illustration, the depiction of the subject, and how the artwork is displayed.

Artists also want people to look at the space around the subjects. They should study the variations of the size and shape of these areas because this may bring attention to other parts of the image. These spaces can convey balance or tension depending on the amount of space available. Likewise, examine the angles and lines of organization within the frame. Is there a logic behind the order of the elements? How do the emerging shapes add depth to the entire image?

From those details, the viewer can formulate a quick analysis by answering the original questions. But to further dissect their creations, artists want their audiences to compare their work with artworks of similar size and style. If you can, visit a museum where comparable artwork is displayed. Conducting research on comparable artworks never ends. Then, make another analysis based on the previous questions to determine whether there are changes to your perception.

Interpretations of Famous Artworks

At times, the life of the artist also affects the viewer’s assessment of the artwork. Any noteworthy incident at the time of the artwork’s creation may help explain why there is such a creation in the first place. Likewise, getting involved in specific artistic or social movements will profoundly influence artists’ creations. But there might be a discrepancy in interpretation if the audience is not aware of these details.

Take, for example, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 artwork “Untitled,” which was recently sold for $110.5 million. It’s a vivid example of neo-expressionism wherein the face on the painting depicts several possibilities based on color combinations and angles. While it does appear that the face is shown upfront, there’s an angle at which a second face, looking sideways, is visible. Likewise, an examination under ultraviolet light reveals additional details drawn in invisible ink.

Salvador Dalí’s artworks are always subject to lengthy discussion and debate. In “The Persistence of Memory,” clocks are melted and scattered over a desert. This could mean several things, one being the depiction of a dream or how memory melts as time passes by. As a key figure of the Surrealist movement, Dali may also be leaving a commentary about distorting the limits of time.

On the other hand, Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” highlights his expertise in anatomy along with his other artistic talents. Hidden behind the robes and the depiction of God with the angels is the shape of the human brain. It could be a protest against the church’s disregard for science. Looking more at his creations reveals additional anatomical references.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s works are full of interesting details. The most famous of which is “The Last Supper,” which spawned several theories and conspiracies from around the world. But in 2007, an Italian musician unearthed musical notes in the painting, which resulted in a tuneful 40-second musical composition. The notes were hidden in the bread rolls and the Apostles’ hands. The meaning of this tune is unknown but, it’s noteworthy that Da Vinci was a musician too.

Finally, “The Mona Lisa” continues to provide intrigue for anyone invested in art. While the lady in the portrait is traditionally known as noblewoman Lisa Del Giocondo, speculation about the subject’s true identity persists. The enigmatic smile is also subject to much interpretation. Indeed, Lumiere Technology made a fascinating discovery in this regard in 2006. They discovered years of varnish, which revealed that she originally had a broader smile than what we see today.

Onto more contemporary pieces and John Nelson Shanks’ portrait of Bill Clinton depicts a subtle detail regarding the biggest scandal during Clinton’s presidency. The artwork, unveiled by Clinton himself, shows him standing beside a mantel in the Oval Office. But looking at it closely, the painting hints at a shadow from a dress. Shanks admitted that it’s a reference to Monica Lewinsky’s iconic stained blue dress.

The Connection between Artists and Audience

The relationship goes both ways. Artists often take inspiration from what’s happening at present and portray it through different lenses. Therefore, a surrealist and an impressionist will have varying interpretations of one incident. No wonder it’s essential to learn where the artist is coming from to unlock the mystery behind his creation.

If possible, audiences can ask the artist about his thought process in creating the painting directly. Some artists might be reclusive and let the artwork speak for itself to open a multitude of theories. However, they create these masterpieces because they always have an audience in mind. There’s a particular thought or emotion that they want to convey. But to get the message across more people, technology is right there for the taking.

If artists are lost for ideas, they can turn to social media to find inspiration. Likewise, they can communicate directly with those who appreciate their work. This allows them to convey their messages louder and clearer while leaving no doubt about their intentions.