Daly, Lucy

Lucy Daly

Lucy Daly responds to the question: Are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?

Object One: Painting titled ‘Seated Woman’

This artwork, ‘Seated Woman,’ has been on display in my family home for many years. Upon first seeing the painting, my sister and I, both of us under the age of ten at the time, interpreted the woman to be drinking a bottle of wine after acknowledging the shape of the bottle and the colour of the liquid. However, our parents interpreted the woman to be contemplating suicide by poison by recognising the bottle’s size and by considering the expression on her face.

This painting enriches the exhibition because it shows that our respective experiences in life due to age influenced our interpretation of the painting, suggesting that our prior knowledge gained from life experience determined how we interpreted the meaning. For example, my sister and I had previously been aware of what a bottle of wine looked like, therefore, we were able to confirm our theory based on prior knowledge. Furthermore, we were not largely aware of the concept of suicide at the time, therefore it would have been unlikely to have drawn that conclusion. Art is a type of knowledge that invites evaluation, and it is more open to interpretation because factors such as life experience and age guide personal opinions.

This painting also enriches the exhibition because it illustrates how my sister and I drew different interpretations than our parents from the same painting. This artwork exemplifies how the nature of abstract art allows audiences to derive their own meaning showing that knowledge can be incredibly varied. Given that the title of this painting gives no indication of the fundamental purpose and given that abstract art is primarily known for its uncertainty, it can be concluded that art is a type of knowledge more open to interpretation than others because of its innate ability to create conversation and often disagreement.

Object Two: Article extract on the invention of cleft palate surgery


This article extract discusses the invention of cleft palate surgery and the key people and periods related to the origins of the operation. Contradictory to the article, my family has always believed that my great-great-uncle invented the cleft palate surgery; he was a renowned ENT surgeon during the early 1900s. This article introduces the names of two other doctors who had been recorded as early inventors and performers of the surgery. While the truth as told throughout my family has been shared through verbal communication, the results provided by google are in written and published form.

This article enriches the exhibition by revealing how multiple people have been credited for the invention. The object exhibits subtle scepticism surrounding the origins of the surgery by referencing two names and two time periods. Furthermore, because my great-great-uncle has also been credited as the inventor within my family, this new information presents a contradiction making the knowledge even more open to interpretation. The object shows that information is more open to interpretation when there are conflicting justifications and scepticism.

This article is also interesting for the exhibition because there is written proof about the inventor of the surgery as well as verbal evidence from my great-great-uncle, raising concerns about the validity of information as a result of the source. In the case of my great-great-uncle, verbal communication presents problems including human error, for instance, memory. On the other hand, it also has the benefit of being a primary source. As for the article, it was published on a secure website and given that it is an early result on google, it is widely believed information, making the written source less open to interpretation. This suggests that the origin and context of knowledge determine the extent to which it is open to interpretation.

Object Three: 1930 newspaper diagram about the discovery of Pluto


This diagram, published in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1930, shows the identification of Pluto as the ninth planet in our Solar System. The illustration shows Pluto as the furthest planet from the sun, however, in 2006, Pluto was renamed a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union[1]. While the public widely supported Pluto’s recognition as a planet for over half a century, it was still proven to be a false identification, causing people to question the extent to which scientific fact is open to interpretation.

This object enriches the exhibition by raising the question of whether science is open to interpretation due to the technological limitations associated with acquiring scientific knowledge. The diagram shows that astronomers had gathered quantitative and

empirical data to estimate Pluto’s diameter between 8 and 32 thousand miles, suggesting that the identification was made based on experimental procedure. However, because Pluto was the furthest identifiable object from Earth and because of the uncertainty regarding its specific diameter, it is suggested that the technology of the time prevented astronomers from correctly identifying Pluto as a dwarf planet. Despite scientific theories being supported by accurate research and methodology, there is still room for interpretation because of technological limitations.

This diagram is also particularly interesting for the exhibition because it was published by a well-established and widely-read newspaper company. On the one hand, the diagram can be seen as reliable given the newspaper’s access to a wide variety of resources which likely facilitated their research, as seen by the specific data included in the diagram. On the other hand, it can also be seen as unreliable because this diagram was drawn for the public, therefore, the content may have been altered to benefit the company. For example, the diagram may have been simplified to appeal to larger audiences. This demonstrates how there can be multiple perspectives regarding the extent to which knowledge is open to interpretation and that it is important to observe other viewpoints when evaluating source reliability.

Reference List:

Pravin K. Patel. 2020. “Cleft Palate Repair.” Medscape Reference. Accessed 5th January 2022 https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1279283-overview

—. 2009. “The Discovery of Pluto.” The Mitchell Archives. Accessed 9th February 2022 http://mitchellarchives.com/the-discovery-of-pluto.htm

—. 2019. “Why is Pluto no longer a planet?” Library of Congress.
Accessed 10th January 2022 https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/why-is-pluto-no-longer-a-planet/#:~: text=In%20August%202006%20the%20International,will%20be%20designated% 20as%20planets.

[1] Library of Congress. ‘Why is Pluto no longer a Planet?’ (2019)