Soodalter, when she read it, liked it fairly well, but she had a couple of points of disagreement. Let's look at the piece again:
Jesse Soodalter, The Only Way Out is Up,
found object (asphalt), gold-colored aluminum wire, paper, October 2012
Here's Soodalter's first disagreement:
...the two interventions that you describe, while I agree that conceptually they're independent or at least distinct, in actual act are one gesture. The object is literally sewn to the paper with wire, not wrapped and then affixed. As I say, it doesn't invalidate the distinctness of those two axes, but it is quite important to (my own vision of) the nature of the piece that the object is bound to the paper, and embellished in the binding, not decorated and then mounted. Does that make sense?
Yes, of course it makes sense. Thinking it over, I realized that my list of interventions was incomplete: I talked about 1. the wrapping of the object in wire, and 2. the fixing of the object to the paper. But there was a prior intervention, intervention 0: surveying a field of garbage, of rubble, Soodalter saw this object. This object spoke to her, and she spoke back to it. She pulled it from the trash, and said, "There is something important to this one." In one sense, this is really the only important intervention; everything else just pretties up that initial recognition.
Now here is Soodalter's second disagreement:
The wire is as much there to constrain as to exalt, there's a sharpness and a punitive edge that is very much intrinsic to the piece – and to all the wire work, really; the diametric polysemy of wire is a huge part of my obsession with it.
Polysemy, by the way, is linguistic-theory talk for something like the concept I'm pursuing with this blog post overall. It's a term for a sign that has multiple related meanings; Soodalter, as I understand her, and I could be wrong, uses the phrase "diametric polysemy" to suggest that wire means some things, and other related things which are actually opposites of the first things - in this instance, the pinioning cruelty she describes is opposed to the benedictive gentleness I described.
What it amounts to is that you could say I got my entire interpretation wrong - I misunderstood how Soodalter made the work, I misunderstood the significance of how the work was made, and also I took the meaning of the work for the opposite of what Soodalter thought it was about.
You could say I got my interpretation wrong; but this is not the best way to put it. Soodalter, after all, liked my version. She liked her version too, and her version contradicts my version, but she herself didn't reject my version. What does this mean? Does it mean that The Only Way Out is Up doesn't mean anything at all? Of course not. But what we are talking about by meaning in art is not, I think, the same as our normal impression of the idea of meaning. That's what I've been considering and why I'm writing to you today.
As you know, I will never propose a simple idea when a complicated one will do, or use two words instead of ten. Plus also I like math. So let's consider the difference between a vector and a vector field.
A vector is a mathematical construct which includes magnitude and direction:
They're very handy for representing things like forces. A force applied to a cart, for instance, gives it a push, a push with both magnitude and direction. A vector is well adapted for representing this situation.
Let's say instead of little Bobby pushing his Radio Flyer, though, we're talking about an electromagnet.
Like Bobby, an electromagnet produces force. Unlike Bobby, its force isn't a single vector tied to a single location in space (the handlebar of the cart). The electromagnet's force influences everything around it. For every point in space surrounding the electromagnet, a vector exists, waiting to act on amenable matter. This phenomenon is called a field. In this case, it is a vector field.
a simplified diagram of a vector field
(simplified in the sense that not every point in the area has its vector illustrated)
The claim I am seeking to advance here is that the experience of art is more like a field than it is like a vector. Art itself is more like the electromagnet than it is like little Bobby. An adequate art object will mean the same thing to all viewers. A really impressive art object will mean many things to many viewers. Its purpose is not to create a single meaning, but to create a kind of aesthetic matrix which supports the discovery of meaning. Not just any meaning - but meaning of a sufficiently dense and profound variety to prove rewarding to the effort a viewer puts into looking at it.
My interpretation of Soodalter's sculpture was like one vector, and Soodalter's interpretation of her sculpture was like a second vector. They didn't match up at all because we were standing in different places relative to the work. The work was powerful enough to generate a vector field around itself, waiting for a viewer to wander into it. This vector field was of a quality sufficient to inspire thoughts which were important to me, and different thoughts which were important to Soodalter. It won't inspire thoughts in all people, just as not all matter can receive a push from the magnetic forces generated around an electromagnet. That's fine. We've talked before about different people having different tastes, and this is one way of phrasing that. It's using ten words to say "abstract art talks to some people and not to others." This distinction doesn't make anyone better, or worse, only different.