‘Real art has the capacity to make us nervous,’ writes Susan Sontag in her 1966 essay, Against Interpretation, which is why we need to engage in ‘cowardly’ interpretation. Interpretation constitutes ‘a continually evolving defence of art’s existence,’ she wrote, and is the ‘revenge of the intellect upon art’.
‘Sometimes a writer will be so uneasy before the work that he will install [an interpetable meaning] within the work itself’.
Thus there are conceptual artists revenging against themselves and their critics by creating art concepts which interpret their own work.
Even Sontag admits that a certain amount of interpretation is acceptable to ‘help us see the thing’ but as a sensual object rather than an abstract concept.
Interpretation is also a way of making art useful. By voicing our interpretations and hearing the interpretation of others, we assess each other’s reactions and measure them against our own. It is a way not of understanding the artist’s intent but of understanding ourselves and our friends.
We don’t need interpret to justify art, but we do need to communicate about ourselves. Without relating the art to ourselves, communicating it, and discovering the use-value of the artwork as a communicative symbol within the context of our lives, it cannot be integrated into lasting memory as a mental tool.
Instead, when an artwork is merely sensually and existentially experienced, it fills us with the ‘nervousness’ of being trapped alone with an emotion and unable to communicate it.