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Looking At Hugh Hefner's Portrait From Various Lenses

1377 words - 6 pages

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 figures—one male, four female—looking in different directions, some with a specific emotion while others express another emotion. Hugh, front left, looks comfortable and happy; he’s grinning in a way that makes you know that he is satisfied in his life/this moment. Then when you look to your right, you see the four girls who all have different facial expressions. The different expressions all give the same underlying look of envy. The girl sitting on the ottoman is glaring at the other girls while the two girls on the bed are engaging in conversation while showing wariness. The woman on the floor is looking longingly at the camera as if she wants to say something but you do not know what. Tolstoy’s belief of “an artist’s chief job is to express and communicate emotions to an audience” (Freeland, 155) is conveyed when you initially look at the Hugh Hefner portrait. Every viewer has their own interpretation, but most would argue that when you look at this portrait you are able to see different expressions on the five characters faces—impacting the viewer with the same experience that Shay got when photographing this image. Tolstoy and Freud both understand that art can communicate emotions and feelings, while Tolstoy believes...

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