Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is Our Art What We Know?

"Kindness by the River Flow"
Pardon the color ~ the original is slightly more orange in feel. 
Painted about a month ago.
It's a favorite image so
I wasn't going to put it up now, but it helps illustrate
the discussion going on in my head, see below...

A visitor once said, "You paint what you know." A relative once said, "You are too emotional. You paint too emotionally. Stop the emotions."

I have spent the last two years exploring books, art, and life, wondering how those two observations meet. I assume there is an element of truth in both statements.

How can a great wordsmith write about an intense feeling without having felt it before? There are subtle physical details that might be found in medical journals, but to write with resonance it seems logical that the author would have had some personal experience. This translates into visual art as well.

In the above drawing/painting there is an old person, humped over. So far I haven't lived with a humped back, but I've lived with a woman with a humped back. Does this mean that I know what it feels like to have a humped back? Not exactly, but I can use my imagination to get closer to the truth than I could before she moved in.

This gets to the observation above about emotions in the artist and in the art. Zooey Deschanel states that her songs are not about her life, but are rather about emotions that she finds interesting: the lovelorn. She says happy content love is less interesting as a creative topic. She does not want to link her personal life with her professional life. Time will tell whether she is being honest with us and with herself.

Meanwhile I am wondering about which themes in songs are the most successful overall. Is Zooey singing to her audience? Is she singing to her own muse? Is she out of control emotionally? 

This leads one to pondering which themes in visual art are the most successful. Whoa! This makes one travel to different genres and cultures and towns and countries. There are endless answers to this question. Sitting here, back at home, I have Zooey's phrased "happy content love." I have had this most of my adult life. And yet it is a pleasure for me to create pictures that occasionally have intense emotional darkness. In fact, I find it downright boring to create pictures of just an ocean and a hill and pretty flowers. I have nothing against flowers. They inspire me constantly. But for artists of my type, there is not enough meat to them.

Getting back to "you paint what you know," I think perhaps I do know. I also include what I know as having come through books, movies, and observations of others, not just through my own personal experience. And speaking about the second statement, the emotional side of any artist: that intensity of feeling is uncomfortable at times, and can get us in trouble, but to stop the emotions is to wipe out the creative spark. There would no longer be art... just empty paintings of happy times. Totally unsatisfying. 

It is not about stopping emotions... It is instead about guiding sensibilities as best possible. Which is what we all do, really, when we are feeling in the flow of things.