Essay on Looking at Hugh Hefner's Portrait from Various Lenses

Essay on Looking at Hugh Hefner's Portrait from Various Lenses

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Cynthia Freeland argued that art communicates significance but there is no one precise hypothetical approach that tells us how to best interpret a work of art. Although there are better interpretations of a piece artwork than others, there is no one-way to interpret a single piece of art. The best interpretations understand the background of the artist while also focusing on the style that the artist uses. The emotions and ideas that come from looking at a piece of art work can come from the artist’s perspective of that of the viewer. When understanding the expressionist theory we can look to Freeland’s definition: “expression theory holds that art communicates something in the realm of feelings and emotions” (Freeland, 155). In a broader sense, art conveys feelings—such as empowered, sacred, etc.—and emotions—love, hate, fear, etc. I will argue that by viewing the Hugh Hefner portrait through three different lenses, we can achieve a better comprehension of the expressionist theory but that feelings and emotions are not the only aspect that art communicates.
If we view art through Tolstoy’s framework, we see that there are many conscious feelings that arise when we look at artwork; this is especially seen when we observe the Hugh Hefner portrait. The viewer can see that Art Shay’s, the photographer of the Hugh Hefner portrait, intentions are to show Hugh Heffner in his element, surrounded by his work—i.e. women. When the viewer first examines this portrait before looking at the name, the male in the front is empowering and overshadows the women in the background. Tolstoy’s conscious framework allows the viewer to understand what they willfully feel when looking at a portrait. In this case, the viewer would see five different figur...


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...and feelings and revising it by saying that “art can express or convey ideas as well as feelings” (Freeland, 160). Langer’s argument that there is not a fine line between communicating emotion and ideas counteract Tolstoy’s and Freud’s claim that art expresses conscious and unconscious emotions.
As Tolstoy and Freud’s discussion with art communicating unconscious and conscious emotions and feelings, it is reasonable to suppose that a piece of artwork can be interpreted through feelings and emotions that the viewer or artist did not even know that they had. Nevertheless, as I have argued, we cannot stop art from expressing ideas to the viewer. Thus, Freud and Tolstoy’s description of the expressionist theory falls short of what the expressionist theory actually is—“feelings and emotions, or thoughts and ideas” (Freeland, 149) that the art communicates to the viewer.

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