What do you see and think of when you look at this statue? What exactly is the man doing?
If you think the answer is obvious, you’re right–and completely wrong. There is no correct way to interpret art. Perhaps the artist had one idea and perspective in mind when creating the piece, yet the beautiful thing is that everyone interprets and responds to a given work of art differently. Art reveals varying perspectives of the world and fosters diversity and opening minds to other ways of thinking. That’s pretty powerful. Think of the ways art has been used over the centuries, the famous painting of Barack Obama that read ‘change’ beneath that helped join people together under an idea; the Battle Hymn of the Republic that gave the Union soldiers strength to push on through the disease, the rifle smoke, and the artillery explosions to beat the Confederacy; again depending on how one thinks about it, the Bible is a work of art and has influenced the way countless people think and act; hell even that CGI Geico gecko has made quite an impression.
While I am familiar with a replica of the statue located at 30th and Canyon in Boulder, my lovely wife told me the original statue stands in Denver at 15th and Larimer. When she saw it, she immediately saw that the man was freeing himself from a sort of bondage represented by the un-chiseled block. She saw his deep brown bronze complexion and knew the statue represents an African-American slave freeing himself from his oppression by plantation owners and discrimination from the whites.
When her friends she was with, all of whom are white, did not make that connection at all and had a totally different perspective, she was perplexed, even disturbed. Her curiosity led her to ask surrounding strangers their personal take on the statue’s meaning. Interestingly, most of the non-white people she asked shared her interpretation that the statue represented the historic struggle of blacks to win back their God-given freedom, while the whites maintained a different one, that I’m not sure my wife really bothered to try to understand, due to her adamancy that it was wrong and her interpretation was right.
I, however, as a white man, interpreted the statue perhaps similarly to the other whites, at least in that I never thought the man was necessarily a slave of any sort. My interpretation is that he is a man building himself to be strong, to be the man he wants to be. It’s a metaphor; he’s working to better himself mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and define himself in a world of 6 billion plus people.
I saw his position as a very powerful one, he has realized it is in his hands to make himself who he wants to be as a person. When my wife told me about the idea of him being trapped by the block, this inhibition had never occurred to me. I don’t see her interpretation as wrong, however I doubt the artist had that in mind when he created the statue due to the title of the piece. Yet this alternate interpretation opened up another entire side of thinking about the statue’s meaning that had never occurred to me, and perhaps I am a more complete man for it, as our chiseler wishes to be.
Whatever one’s interpretation of this world is, I hope that they express it and share it. Humanity needs ideas to overcome the challenges we face and to find new ways to enjoy what already is good. Ideas don’t always come easily, at times a trickle and others a flood that fills the mind.
The possibilities are endless when one is staring at a blank paper, canvas, lump of clay, block of wood, or computer screen. The ocean of ideas with currents shoving this way and that and tidal swelling here and there. On top of that, each of these ideas encapsulates multiple perspectives to take. Eventually, one has to just choose an idea and a perspective and start creating as our sculptor friend Bobby Carlyle did.
Today, take a moment today to respond to a piece of art and share your interpretation with another or create something of your own, even just a single quote that strikes you or a half-brassed doodle.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your day! ¡Tenga un buen fin de semana!
Laizzes les bon temps roulez!
Asalam alaikum inshallah!