“Shadows on the Wall”
What fascinates me about The Creation of Adam is the multitude of interpretations it spawns. Is the painting a testament to the power of the mind? The might of God? Each meaning raises the question of what the artist truly intended. However, a more valid question may be: does the artist’s intention even matter?
Stripped of any identifying markers, this piece depicts Adam and God in one continuous and fluid shape, recognizable solely by their outlines and nothing else. Departing from the original however, their hands blend together, the spark of life endowed but now in circulation. Sticking with the tradition of man being created in God’s image, both men now share the same anti-pattern and turbulent black ink, literally fusing into one.
Shadows on the Wall is the silhouette of the actual masterpiece - like shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. To some, Adam and God can resemble the ridges of the brain; to others, their mingling suggest something more umbilical. However, we do not have the artist’s ultimate authority to cite. Removing him, in this way, mirrors the discourse of art history. The value of its works accumulate meaning though the dialogue of its viewers. Who’s to say the story they develop is less valid than the artist’s?
Given that phrases like “alternative facts” have entered the zeitgeist, it’s clear we live in a time where truth is under siege. As an applied physics major, I’ve been taught to use the scientific method. Unlike its strict rationality however, there is no objective way to determine the meaning of something like art. Art can be cast and recast until not a single atom from the original remains, and yet, the mere outline of a masterpiece can trigger its recognition. We must recognize art’s ability to evolve beyond its artist. More importantly, we must realize that contemporary interpretations create new meaning.
Philosophy is not something we can always measure and rationally delineate as right or wrong– it’s much more uncertain, even quantum mechanical. And while “truth” in art can exist to an extent by contextualizing it, the meaning stands distinct as a creation of the audience alone. Armed with this acceptance of ambiguity, I can now more effectively question the sources of the information which form my worldview. Turning Michelangelo’s masterpiece into a mere shadow on the wall made me consider that I may too be living in a cave.