When an artist creates a visual work of art such as a painting, he or she is communicating with us just as surely as if she were talking to us. Her “words,” though, are not spoken things, but rather are color, line, shape, and texture. There are so very many things that go into making a visual art work what it is, and so very many different things an artist can say just by making the different combinations.
For example, what does red make us feel? What does grey? What does a bunch of sharp, jagged lines, as opposed to a series of gentle curves, make us feel, especially when they are drawn in forms we recognize such as sharp, jagged eyebrows or gently curving ones?
There are so many other ways, too, that an artist can “talk” to us. We are supposed to feel something when looking at a painting or other work of art: we are supposed to react to it, even if the painting makes us react with tears, anger, or discomfort. Paintings and works of art in general are meant to move us, especially in ways that words often can’t. When we search for the meaning of a painting, we shouldn’t be looking for some kind of abstract symbolic meaning or other intellectual idea. It may be there intellectually, or it may not. Either way, what really is there is feeling–that is what we should search for first in trying to figure out what a painting or photograph “means.”