Art’scool Docent Story: Kate Soudant
What’s Your Vision?
Art can be interpreted in numerous ways. While looking at James Ensor’s Fireworks, 1887 (above), during a recent M&T FIRST FRIDAYS @ THE GALLERY “What’s Your Vision?” tour, a mixed-age group responded with eight different viewpoints to the question “What is going on in this picture?”
In this type of tour, information about the artwork is not revealed until after viewers respond. As always, the youngest was the first to offer an opinion: “It’s a volcano!” he shouted. After the others in the group spent a minute more looking at the work and developed a bit more confidence, they too began to express their opinions: fireworks, a big fire, a bomb blast, a sunrise, a meteor hitting the earth, a beautiful sunset. One person even said, “I don’t know what it is but it scares me; and why are those people at the bottom not doing anything?!”
Looking at art takes time, and when someone notices something, it often triggers a thought in another viewer’s brain. The last comment focused the group on the people at the bottom, who some viewers had not even noticed at first. The colors are not bright and the figures are not clear—what are they doing? Some thought they were running away, but then, on more careful inspection, someone else noted that it appeared they weren’t doing anything unusual; in fact, many aren’t even looking at the large, bright explosion of color.
Did they all agree? No, but that’s what makes looking at art fun—seeing other people’s viewpoints, engaging our own imaginations, and getting a richer, fuller appreciation of the work.
James Ensor’s Fireworks, 1887, is currently on view in the 1962 Knox Building. Come and see the work in person to discover your own vision.