This semester, I’m taking an art
interpretation class. Grades are based solely on quiz and exam
performances, and to make matters worse, the professor has a
sadistic nature. He enjoys watching the girls sob and boys develop
ulcers, so he asks obscure and peculiar questions, often with
little or no connection to the class.

Andrew Kula

In the midterm, the essay question asked for a recipe for
Vincent Van Gogh’s homemade brand of absinthe, and an
approximate amount he drank the night he cut off his ear. Extra
credit was offered to anyone who knew the name of the prostitute to
whom he sent the ear afterwards.

He has already told us that a significant theme in the final
will be describing the emotion in various works of art. He’s
suggested that we practice interpretations of paintings and
photographs by observing the subject and attempting to predict
his/her thoughts.

These can be interesting, and because of my inherent laziness,
I’ve decided to kill two boys with one stone and use my space
this week to practice describing the thoughts of people in
paintings and photos we all know and love.

For the first example, consider the portrait of President
Lincoln on the new five dollar bill. I interpret this to be one of
the few times he removed that hat to publicly reveal his remarkably
hip-looking hair style. He doesn’t care that his ear extends
from above his eyes basically to his mouth; he’s loving every
minute of it. Looks kind of smug, doesn’t he? Kind of like
“That’s right bitch, I’m on the five. And
don’t even pretend you ain’t been to my
memorial.” I imagine he’s smirking at a group of women
behind the painter, as if to say, “Could I interest any of
you ladies in an Abraham sandwich?”

Next, there’s the classic Van Gogh painting “The
Scream.” In this famous impressionist piece, a person dressed
in black stands on a pier overlooking a sunset above the water,
screaming, hands clasped to the sides of his face. I think the
strongest emotion conveyed in the painting is one of anguish, and
I’d argue that the subject represents a child left behind by
his parents. Perhaps they had an upcoming trip to Florida, and in
the madness of organizing a large family’s vacation,
mistakenly left him in the attic. It seems as though after having
tried an especially strong aftershave for the first time, the
child’s physical pain acts as an illustration of his deep
feelings of abandonment. In the corner, two dark figures approach,
the taller of whom bears a strange resemblance to actor Daniel
Stern.

To examine a famous photograph we’re all familiar with,
one that many of you undoubtedly have in poster form, take a look
at the cover of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” For
those who don’t know, that’s the one where the four
band members are crossing the street outside their London studio,
all in mid-stride. George Harrison, at the back of the line is
thinking, “Why does John make us walk single file like
this?” Paul McCartney thinks, “Who the hell put Ringo
in front of me? I mean, come on. Yellow Submarine? Somebody get me
a damn silver hammer.” John Lennon has simply turned off his
mind to relax and float downstream, and Ringo thinks, “Wow.
John’s really letting himself go. He’s starting to look
like Saturday Night Fever staring the Teen Wolf.”

Another photograph we’ve all grown fond of is that
wonderful Nick Nolte mug shot. You know you’ve seen it, and
you know you love it. His expression looks as though he wished to
be shot with a musket instead of a camera. All too often, people
say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that holds true,
then this one is simply “What the fuck?” 333 times.

For my final example, I refer you up and over a few inches to
the picture of me, Andy Kula. I’d interpret this photograph
as misleading and deceitful — almost as though I have
something to hide. Those eyes that won’t look into the camera
just don’t seem wholesome. I’d guess I was thinking
something like, “I hope they crop this right so they
can’t see my pointed left ear and that giant scar under my
chin. That’s it, Andy, keep that mouth shut so they never see
those wretched buck teeth.”

— Contact Andy at
“mailto:ajkula@umich.edu”>ajkula@umich.edu.

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