I think about this question a lot but it has been on my mind lately in response to a flurry of activity on tumblr with one of my images. Posted here, it was one of the first images I made in a series in which I explore the tensions between intimacy and desire in my long term relationship with my lover. I worked on the series for almost two years and naturally my ideas evolved as I worked on it.
When I made this image, however, I was thinking about a disconnect in our erotic life that seemed to come from too much familiarity. I took many other pictures that day but I selected this one to be included because it best represented what I was feeling and trying to express. Turned away from the camera, my naked figure alone in a bedroom felt emotionally laden. It hinted at some distance or separation and an unwillingness to engage.
This is by far the most popular image on my tumblr and recently it has been re-blogged a lot. What has been interesting for me is that the majority of re-blogs are on other tumblrs that are primarily gay porn. When I first started noticing this, it would crack me up seeing my image sandwiched between gifs of writhing, pounding bodies. (If you want the visual you can click here to see one screen grab which, unfortunately, does not preserve the animation for the gifs. Don’t forget to click on it to see it in full detail! Definitely NSFW.)
Ultimately it got me thinking about artistic intention and the persistent questions around its relevance or irrelevance. I’m not insulted or bothered that my image is being read this way; I just didn’t get it. What this elucidates for me in a concrete way is the viewer’s power in making meaning of a particular image and how those meanings can be multiple. As an image maker, I find this to be liberating. I think the notion of intention as a singular path from point A to point B is a trap and ultimately limiting for the artist. It also doesn’t give full color to the nuance or complexity of the creative process.
This is obviously a rich topic that can’t be fully covered in a blog post but I will leave off with this tidbit I came across in my web meanderings on intention…
Duchamp’s “art coefficient” dictates that the art becomes less interesting in direct proportion to the degree the artist’s intent is achieved.
Food for thought, or maybe better yet, a reason to play.