This is the first entry in a series I plan to write about Suite Venetienne by Sophie Calle. Interpretation is a several step process and this entry is about listing what you see in an image as a way to collect visual data to later interpret. I used this image while experimenting with how to discuss controversial topics with school age children. This has also been successful with adults.
When introducing a piece of art, I prefer not to give an explanation prior to discussion. Conversation about a piece is more engaging when there is problem solving involved as opposed to already having all the facts and then trying to decide what to say about them. If a person or group of people work toward putting together context clues to answer questions about a work instead of commenting on readily available explanations, it is more rewarding and the understanding is more thorough.
This was a difficult conclusion for me to reach. As a docent I offered explanations about art to museum guests and as an art history student I sat in a classroom listening to the instructor lecture about the art with little input from the students. All of my experience had been very fact based and the role of the teacher and the student were very clear and separate.
Artworks attract multiple interpretations and it is not the goal of interpretation to arrive at a single, unified composite interpretation. It is very difficult to employ the notion that the journey to making personal connection and meanings in the art is more important than getting the correct facts. It’s especially difficult for me because as a docent and art history student I love sharing what and how much I know about the art.
Listing what you see is my favorite way to begin interpretation of a piece of art. It is a data gathering process that must be done before theories or judgments can be made. Stating what you see without an expectation to make sense of the image starts the most important process of looking at art; really seeing what the artist has presented. Think of description as language used to facilitate understanding and appreciation. It is nearly impossible for someone to discuss a piece of art, completely understanding it and speaking about it articulately, from just a cursory glance. Understanding a work of art first takes really looking at it. Listing the components, figurative or not, removes the pressure of needing to know anything about the work and allows a person to really take stock of exactly what it contains. It also allows the viewer to become comfortable and familiar with the work.
Here’s what I see:
image 1: narrow street, shops, window with reflections, the sky, hat, the letters ‘RO’, man holding camera slung over shoulder, three longer coats, one shorter hip length coat, brick wall, straight lines on the stone ground,
Image 2: The word Credito followed by It, one man in a coat walking in the middle of an open space, one man off to the side almost obscured by a wall, telephone lines or strings, large umbrellas, awnings, windows, tables, brick wall,
Image 3: inside of a building, open square, three people, picture hanging on the wall inside, glass door, arches and columns, stone floors, jackets, large half circle window above large doorway,
Image 4: black line through photo, man in jacket walking through open square, Woman in white hat to the far left, windows with many panels, gate, steps, lighter stone in ground, large half circle window and large doorway have bars over them,
Image 5: man walking, many columns, one arch, doorways, shadows,
Image 6: man in a jacket with a camera over his shoulder, mailboxes, trash bin, column, debris on floor, dark wall under mailboxes, part of a wall visible on far left,