I have just finished reading Susan Sontag's essay entitled "Against Interpretation". In it, she discusses the historical basis for the interpretation of art (whether writing, painting, sculpture, etc.). "The earliest theory of art, that of the Greek philosophers, proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality. It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. For the mimetic theory, by its very terms, challenges art to justify itself."

At this point in the essay (the first two paragraphs, mind you), I stopped and considered the previous statement. Should art really justify itself? Why, for example, must it excuse itself for its existence in this world? If a limestone sculpture of a man and a similar sculpture of intertwining abstract forms appeared next to one another, would the image of the man justify itself more easily, because it is essentially mimetic? It would, I believe, and that is sad.

So many people don't understand art, and not only do they not attempt to, but they also don't see that some art simply is not meant for understanding. How many times have I gone to the MoMA and stood in front of abstract or expressionist paintings for thirty minutes and not heard a single introspective or intelligent thought emerge from the mouths of those who pass? Regardless of anyone's opinion of abstract art, or any style or genre of art for that matter, it is a neon sign of ignorance mounted on the forehead of the person who walks past a Rothko or Pollock canvas and dares to utter the sentence "A child could do that." Sometimes I honestly begin to feel violent. As Pollock flung paint at canvas, I want to fling the bucket it came from at their ignorant heads spouting asinine comments.

It is these people who feel the need to interpret art in the sense that Sontag writes about: "Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy....The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation." That which we do not understand we attempt to alter, to negate, to simplify, to reduce, to deny, to tame to the point of eliminating the discomfort we feel when we accept it as it exists.

Thus, when the Ignorant Ones pass a Rothko color-field painting and remark that their four-year-old could do it better, they are reducing the work to a child's drawing, a doodle without thought, without process and without meaning. They do not feel comfortable standing still, staring at a solid black canvas (though in essence it is more) because it makes them nervous. Uncomfortable. Confused, perhaps, particularly for those with no knowledge of art history. So they must interpret it, filter it through their own personal screen (we all have them) in order to pass it without pause and not feel as though they are missing anything. Well, they are.