Blog by the artist Sanne Kabalt


A friend remarked to me:

"I understand you better than I understand your work."

Understanding is a complex concept that involves becoming aware of the intended meaning, knowing something or someone, accepting it, being sympathetic towards it, comprehending it.

Understanding a person, to me, seems a challenging, delicate feat. You might think you know what some one is feeling, for example, yet you are always influenced by your own feelings and experiences. What way is there to check that your empathy for another, your understanding, is correct? As for understanding a work of art, it is a different matter. Most art is designed to be understood in a myriad of ways. And art is rarely made to be understood only. A work of art wants to bring you to doubt, to bring thoughts to your mind that were not there before, to dig up feelings you forgot were ever there.

Sanne Kabalt,  Dissimilitude , Documentation Photograph, 2011

Sanne Kabalt, Dissimilitude, Documentation Photograph, 2011

One day in my graduation exhibition a visitor cried while looking at Dissimilitude, my graduation work. She burst into tears and when she noticed that I was the artist she said:

"I understand completely what you mean."

It was the first thing that this girl, this visitor, this stranger, had ever said to me. For me it was a very powerful experience. 

If a stranger would ever claim to completely understand me as a person, I would be astounded, doubtful, probably even irritated. Yet I do believe that a stranger can completely understand my work, genuinely feel it and cry over it. I am sure though, that the work has a different meaning, a different weight, a different emotion to the stranger than to myself. But in the case of art, that’s okay, that’s beautiful even. In the case of understanding a person, empathizing with a person, I would hate for the other person to attach a different meaning, weight or emotion to me as a person. 

So, back to the friend who claims to understand me better than my work. When he said this I was surprised and caught off guard. But now, having thought things through, I would like to tell him that I believe it is much harder to understand a person than it is to understand a work of art. And as he is my friend, I would like for him to try to understand both.