What does that artwork mean?
Animals don’t know language. At least, not the spoken one. They do know body-language. Animal-sounds are part of that body-language: Shouting out of frustration, laughing because of joy: They are all part of body-language.
But besides these two languages there is another, third layer of interaction between all living things. It’s the world of feeling, of emotions, of being. In the end everything we say or do originate from that third layer.
Language is extremely practical and multi-functional. But there is also a lot we can’t do with language. There are things you simply cannot say in another language. Those untranslatable words. You know them? Like ‘hyggelig’ in Danish or ‘gezellig’ in Dutch (those two actually are almost the same in meaning, but there is not a English translation for them).
Even body-language can be different between cultures and certainly between species. Showing your teeth as a human is often with laughter and joy. Showing teeth as a dog is…. Something else completely.
Yet your dog knows you’re not growling at him when showing your teeth in laughter. He recognises the feeling behind it. You see? That third layer. It’s right there.
But this universal world of feeling is often being pushed aside in favour of the world of language. A lot of people don’t even know anymore what they feel. They say they are angry, but actually they are afraid, or sad, hurt or all those things together.
You can’t really translate your feelings with language anyway. Because language is abstract. Abstraction comes from the latin abs-trahere: removing, taking distance, leaving out.
The moment we use language we take something away. The word ‘sad’ can’t possibly convey the actual feeling you are feeling.
A piece of art however can do exactly that.
My guess is that humans started making art the moment that language became more and more prominent. Because with language something started to be missing.
The moment language is your first go-to there has to come something else to fill the gap.
People started telling stories, started dancing, making music and started painting.
That’s all there is to art actually. You can never truly explain what an artwork is about with words, because then you are abstracting the experience. Yet, as an artist, you are always asked to talk about your work. But actually we can’t really. Everything we say is never exactly what’s it about. Because if that was so there was no need for the artwork to be made and to exist.
So the next time you encounter a work of art, stand still and let it be. Because that’s all you have to do, just be and feel.
And if you experience nothing? Then, for you, the artwork is about nothing. It’s as simple as that.