Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On "The Meaning of The Hat" by Anne Leigh Parrish (993 words) ***

One comment on a story covered on this blog quite some time ago agonized over the fact that I hadn't revealed the "meaning" of the story (I assume this was a student wanting clarity for some class paper or project). The problem for me would have been that establishing a "meaning" for the story wasn't my aim, nor was it something I felt like I could establish, outside of historical or literary context, nor was it something I really wanted to do. A great story--or work of art--often doesn't have an easily defined meaning; it's mysterious and so is the power that it holds over us. I could, perhaps, provide a list of themes or motifs that work through the piece, but a single "moral"--no.

Parrish's little piece is about that same sort of function in art criticism. Having been trained in how to read a book through college literature courses, the ability to do so now seems much easier and natural than it was when I was younger. And yet, I never got so far with art criticism that I have background enough to be able to say X is so-and-so's postmodernist response to W's modernist concepts of space, etc. I look at a piece of art and think, that's an interesting picture. Maybe, if it moves me, I might try to investigate the picture more deeply. And that's essentially what happens in Parrish's story. A woman brings home a set of paintings and wonders about what they are about. Seems simple, but what Parrish seems to suggest is the the painting is really about the viewer. Our interpretation is necessarily colored by who we ourselves are. A hat is not just a hat. It's what we long for, whatever that uniquely is. Read the story here at Knee-jerk.

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