It’s stained, smudged, scratched, and scraped yet still cut in a perfect one foot-by-one foot square. This square was cut from the remnants of abandoned property, much like the rest of this exhibit. The worn wood rests on a frame, much like a painting would. It hangs on the wall anticipating closer examination from curious passers-by. It looks elegant in shape from afar, almost perfect, but up close, the rough surface makes it look wasted away. About two inches from the bottom of the piece, there is a rectangular, narrow, black strip of paint stretching across almost the whole block. It’s smooth and glossy compared to the rough, damaged wood. The strip doesn’t cover much and leaves most of the worn wood exposed. It’s almost as if the black paint is censoring a part of the piece, like a redacted document.
Next to the piece are four other art works very similar to this one, all made by sibling artists David and Mathieu Ruhlman. The pieces are all hung on the same wall, arranged neatly in a row. They are each stained and smattered originally with their own painted, black shapes. One is a rectangle in the center and taking up most of the wood. Another covers only the top edge and goes down the sides just a tad. They all help tell their story and set the mood. Together they emanate a sort of sad, worn down feeling, like they understand that their “lives” are coming to a close. I also get a secretive vibe from each one, a faint whispering, like they all hold some sort of secrets or hidden pain, be it under the black or not. Looking at the pieces also gives me a strange sensation, like the smell you get after hitting your face, the smell of pain. It’s almost as if I’m feeling pain radiating off the pieces, the suffering in the journey the worn wood has gone through permeating the air. The dirtiness and roughness of the wood shows it’s been through a lot and gives it that painful atmosphere, just like how people who’ve pulled through a lot of suffering have a certain air around them. The sensation gives an intensity to the pieces you can’t get from a passing glance.
One way to read this piece is how anything can be considered “beautiful” if enough of its “flaws” are covered, just like the black conceals different sizes and shapes of each piece. In a perfect world, I would be able to truthfully say that we shouldn’t have to hide or conceal anything about ourselves, but we don’t live in a perfect world. There are some things about ourselves that we should keep in check, a lot of times our immediate instincts or wants are morally questionable. Sometimes, toning down a piece of our personality is exactly what we need to help our own health and the feelings or well-being of others.
As someone who’s had to learn this lesson the hard way, this interpretation is especially heavy. It may come to you as a surprise, but in middle school I wasn’t the most popular kid. Some kids I had thought were my friends were soon putting me down, picking me apart, and pushing me around. I tried a bunch different tactics including standing up for myself, trying to disappear, and others. Eventually, I found that raising my confidence was the key. It worked to keep my head up and laugh with them. Soon, it stopped and I was left with so much extra confidence that it was consistently finding outlets to ooze out of. I turned from confident to cocky, which isn’t a great way to make friends. Up until late freshman year, I’d been struggling with the concept that the world doesn’t revolve around me, and the idea hadn’t hit me until someone had snapped at me about it.. I’d pushed away a lot of people who could’ve been good friends today. It was a big feeling-out process in my life, letting me try out different grasps on the world, and while it wasn’t the best way, it gave me experience and the ability to see from that point of view in case others do.
A further, more positive thought about this piece might be to consider how when we fade away, just as the wood is fading, we leave an impact, no matter the shape or size, like the various stripes of black paint. Our first priority in leaving an impression or effect on people should be aimed toward making a positive difference rather than a big or lasting one. It’s much more valiant to aim for leaving good rather than for recognition or a legacy.
My strongest interpretation of this piece is that the black represents our need to hide our “huge” problems that in actuality are mundane to the outside world, just like the faded and damaged wood would be overlooked by a passerby. What we should remember is that the scratches and stains we’ve gone through, just like the wood, are what make us, us. Every person who’s completed their life did so with their fair share of trouble or pain, some more than others. It’s those experiences and how we react to them that define who we really are. We should end life being proud of our scuffs and scrapes, not ashamed and regretful of who we’ve become. Personality forms under pressure, but the question is, will you be a diamond, or will you be coal?
This piece has a lot more going on than initially meets the eye. A lot of people might give it a glance and see a mess, “Oh, it’s an abstract piece,” I can hear someone saying. But it’s more than that, any abstract piece is more than just that word. People mock art with that word. Just because you don’t immediately see a meaning doesn’t mean that the piece doesn’t have one. Purposeful chaos or deliberate simplicity, each can produce infinite meanings. This piece specifically rings in and provokes my mind. It’s more than just wood, paint and scuffs. It’s got emotion and feeling and resonance.
It feels really cool when you dive deep into a piece and search for the meaning through introspection rather than struggle to find what the artist was trying to say. While it’s worthwhile in helping to decipher it yourself if you need to, I feel that it’s not needed at all as long as you can come up with your own meaning or make yourself think a little. Art doesn’t need to blurt out its meaning, it’s a viewer’s job to make it.