I have always enjoyed showing this painting in different venues. Every time I do, I get to hear different interpretations of what “Follow Me Through the Woods” means to viewers. It seems to evoke strong emotional responses from people. Very rarely are people neutral on this particular image.
Some find it comforting and reassuring, like the gentleman who was reminded of being a child walking the woods with his grandfather. Others find it straight out frightening. In fact, my friend Mary refused to sit in my living room when it was hanging on the wall. She seemed to think the figure had some sort of malicious intent. I have also heard a theory of an alien spacecraft causing the glow in the distant woods. Another viewer swore she saw things moving in the painting.
These incredibly different perspectives on a single work of art has always amazed me. How is it that one image can evoke such varied interpretations? To answer this question, I’d like to refer back to an earlier post; “What color are your lenses?” We are all viewing the world through our own lenses or experiences. Those lenses shape everything in our lives. When viewers admire a piece of art, they are seeing it through their particular set of glasses.
So which interpretation of this painting is right?
I believe all of them. It is a magical story of alien landings, peaceful grandfathers, campfire horror tale and so much more. And yet, none of these describes what I thought I was creating as I laid paint to canvas.
As an artist, I recognize that my personal intention in creating a specific piece of art is not always how others see it. Instead it is the shared experience of artist, artwork and observer that gives birth to new meaning within the art. For this reason, there are very few people who actually know the story of how this painting came to be. If I state my personal story, I limit the potential for the viewer to find themselves and their own meaning within the woods. When asked, “What does this painting mean?,” I always turn the question around. “What does it mean to you?”
Not everyone has this approach. There are artists, critics and observers who would claim that there is only one correct answer. That is to know what the artist intended, be they visual artist, musician, writer, etc. This can cause trouble, especially if the artist is no longer around to tell his tale. We can study the artwork in terms of artistic merit, analyze it for historical context, compare it to other works by the same artist or perhaps even other artists of the era. However, even in all of these studies we are still wearing our own lenses while making our best guess of the artist’s intent.
We often are not aware of the limitations and implications caused by our lenses. For example, what happens when a group of people look at a particular artwork and each claim that what they “see” is correct?
This is exactly what has happened with the Bible. The Bible, regardless of whether you believe the author is Divine or human, is a literary work of art. It has been written, edited and interpreted in many different ways over thousands of years. I personally have 5 different versions of the Bible on my bookshelf. Which one is right?
Even though I may not know exactly what was meant by the narratives and stories told, it still has significant meaning in my life. It’s relevance is not limited to historical facts or interpretations preached by external sources. I can also ask, “What does the Bible mean to me?” By embracing this perspective I also honor that what it means to me in this moment is not the definitive answer of Bible interpretation. Instead of being a static, limited view, this new perspective allows my definition and yours to change and evolve side by side.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas. To leave a comment simply fill out the form below including your name & email address, website is optional. Thank you!
Love & blessings on your journey,