How Art Interpretation Preserves Memory: The Significance of Historic Responses to A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884)

Level of Education of Students Involved


Faculty Sponsor

Abigail Gomulkiewicz


Christ College


History, Art History, Aesthetics

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-27-2023


This paper discusses how art interpretation preserves memory by reflecting upon several different interpretations of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) by George Seurat. Throughout history, audiences have interpreted La Grande Jatte’s message and preserved its significance in their own way. Still, each memory has centered around and brought forth a feeling of harmony. This paper argues that the timeless, compelling nature and legacy of Seurat’s masterpiece demonstrates a powerful characteristic of our memories—their ability to simultaneously shift, change, and even contrast while still holding the innate emotion and significance embedded in our remembrances. These memories, as mentioned, are rooted in an unique interpretation of the art work. Art interpretation plays an essential role in the legacy of artworks, but it is commonly seen as a nuanced subject. Nevertheless, the practice of hypothetical intentionalism—combining authorial intention with meaningful, educated interpretations to draw legitimate and lasting conclusions about a work—can simplify our understanding of the purpose and merit of art interpretation. As the practice of hypothetical intentionalism unifies interpreters through common themes, liberates interpreters through creativity, and allows all reasonable interpretations to be heard, everyone is given a seat at the intellectual table—making artwork more compelling, engaging, and influential. The visual, technical, and memorial workings of La Grande Jatte shows its potential as a tool for analysis.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Olivia Tambrini is a second-year History student at Valparaiso University. She expects to graduate in May 2025 and attend graduate school to pursue a focus in Abrahamic religions and Middle eastern studies. She aspires to work in a museum or archive and continue her passion for research. She enjoys traveling, learning languages, visiting museums, reading, participating in theater, and spending time with friends and family.

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