“No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.”
– George Eliot
I’m very aware of this statement with regard to literature – books I found compelling, even life changing, 30 years ago when I first read them can seem curiously bland now.
The same is also true for all visual arts. Each time we see a piece of art, it is with new eyes since we are no longer the same person we were the last time we viewed it. If it’s a work hanging on your wall that you see everyday, you may not be aware of this changing perception as it occurs so incrementally. But going to a museum and seeing works that you haven’t seen for years can be a startling experience – it can be either disappointing (why did I think this work was so wonderful before?) or unexpectedly exciting (I don’t remember this work being so powerful!). Of course, the work hasn’t changed – it is we who have. Even the artists themselves will have different feelings about their own previous work – they’ve changed both as an artist and as an observer.
This ever-changing experience of art ensures a continued vitality in the dynamics between artist, artwork and audience. The art world would be rich enough based solely on the wealth of new work constantly being created by talented artists – the fact that each time we return to a piece it is a potentially new experience for us adds an opportunity to appreciate art that is almost inexhaustible.