Reception aesthetics studies the way art is received and how this reception has changed, or is changing over time and in different contexts. A lot has been written about interpretation. One of the more important approaches is the 'hermeneutics' of the German philosopher Gadamer. For long time it was believed that a correct interpretation of a text or art work should focus on discovering the original intention of the author/artist. Gadamer however argues that the meaning of a text/art work should not be reduced to the author/artist's intentions. Rather it should depend on the perceiver him/herself, whose interpretation of course will be influenced by personal characteristics, the time frame and context.
And indeed, when I watch and interpret a 'Picasso', I am unaware of the painter's idea or objective. Instead my interpretation will be determined by all kind of factors: my ideas about Picasso and his work, my assessment of this specific art work, or my general attitude towards modern art. My basic question is not what does this art work signify? But rather, what does it mean to me, to us? So the art work will question us, challenge us.
And as mentioned, as a consequence, the interpretation will change over time, and we will never stop interpreting an art work.
Does this mean that studying art history is less important? At least one can say that art history may contribute to art interpretation, but that it is no absolute necessity. In this respect it seems useful to distinguish art history from art criticism, the latter focusing more on the interpretation and artistic valuation of an art work.