Creating art is a puzzle. Interpreting art is also a puzzle — not a crossword type of puzzle, where one and only one word fits the squares across and another word down — art is a puzzle filled with possibilities.
Should the huge flower be painted red or orange? And if Georgia O’Keeffe decides “red,” then what color could the background be? Blues and greens? Yes, red flower with blue/green background she decides. Now it is our turn to puzzle over the “meaning” of the red flower with the blue/green background. We decide; “The red flower is about sex.” “No,” says O’Keeffe, “it is an abstract red flower.”
The color red has many meanings in our Western society: anger, blood, love, Valentine’s Day, sex and more. So, when O’Keeffe chooses to paint a “red” flower she automatically teases us to answer “sex” to our interpretation of her puzzle. The puzzle becomes more complex, the “correct” answer shifting from the artist’s intent to our personal association with the shapes and colors that O’Keeffe uses.
Donnamaria Bruton’s large scale paintings present us with more obscure and difficult puzzles, sort of a New York Times super-complex crossword. How I wish Bruton were alive to help guide us through the density of the symbols in her paintings and her intended “true” meanings. She died in 2012 at age 58.