Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thoughts about Readers' Comments

This week I am responding to some comments from readers that raise questions in my mind, and which you too may have wondered about. I am including images of some drawings that I plan to write about next time--but I'm not giving titles or telling you what they are. See if you can guess! (If you already know, please don't let on!) 
The enthusiastic comments about Easel Talk that I have received indicate that many people, from widely differing backgrounds, enjoy reading the stories about my paintings. ( I realize, of course, that unfavourable sentiments are less likely to reach me, if only because people who don't like my stuff will have long since stopped reading it!) Compliments are lovely, and most encouraging, but just as welcome are comments that raise thought-provoking questions, such as this one from a reader who had just read the entry on "Foreign Hotel" (Feb. 14, 2011):  "I found that I wished that I had looked at your painting more carefully before reading the blog, because once you had described the various interpretations I was no longer sure what my impressions would have been."  

The reader had opened my email notifications in the wrong order. I had in fact included a preview of "Foreign Hotel" the week before. Nevertheless, she raised some valid questions:  to what extent do I as the artist want to influence how people react to my work, and to what extent do viewers want to be influenced? Should art stand alone and speak for itself, allowing viewers to form their own impressions? Might a person feel cheated of a spontaneous reaction by having the artist spell it all out? Or does learning about the context of the work and the artist's feelings about it enhance and enrich the viewing experience? Personally, I've always found that some background knowledge made the work more interesting, and enough readers of Easel Talk, including several who describe themselves as not particularly visual, have told me that they appreciate the added dimension--and even compared me to art exponents in museums and on TV!--that I feel justified in continuing. Still, it is important to have an unmediated response first, so please take advantage of the previews. I also invite your opinions on what constitutes the right kind and amount of information.

Related to this issue is the question of titles. I've always enjoyed naming things--as a small child I named vast families of children I dreamed of having when I grew up--and I like choosing titles for paintings. I'm in the process of reviewing the titles I've come up with so far, trying to decide why I settled on each one, and whether it works. The topic arose out of an exchange of emails following my post on "On the Ferry" (March 6, 2011). Knowing that my correspondent had spent vacations in the Cancun area, I remarked that she had probably travelled on the ferry in the painting, to which she replied, "Couldn't it be any ferry?"
Well yes, it could--at least until I identified its location in my blog--and that's why I didn't call it "On the Cancun ferry." I debated whether it was more likely to sell if I left it vague--it might appeal to someone with fond memories of a ferry in Asia or the Mediterranean region--or whether the specific reference would give it a better chance with people who had spent time in Mexico. I've yet to find out! I think my titles are an attempt to pinpoint what is most important to me about the subject. Usually, I have something in mind which is implicit in the painting, but may or may not be perceived by someone else. For example, in the small painting that I called "Quintet", I was thinking of the perky little percussion instruments called high-hats.
Quintet - acrylic - 2010 - 12" x 12"
Titles are especially perplexing when it comes to non-representational painting. Personally I feel let down when I read "Composition" or "Abstraction"on the label, even though that is exactly what the painting is. I like titles, and for me a good one is a kind of mini-poem that enhances the visual aspect. It's not always easy to choose something that feels right, though. Below is an abstract painting that was produced quickly and intuitively, without any preconceived ideas about subject matter. The result seemed to me to have architectural elements, a mystery, and a ghostly presence. I've tried several titles, but none of them really satisfies me. I started with "Haunted House", switched to "Who's in There?" and most recently, "Anyone Home?" Maybe I should just call it "Mystery"?

To be renamed? - acrylic on paper - 2002 - 23" x 30"
I think I did better with "Winter," another intuitive abstract. When painting it I was thinking only of the mark-making, and of economical use of means and colour. It turned out being so suggestive of winter in a cold climate that one woman who saw it remarked, "I'm from Saskatchewan, and it looks just like that!"

Winter - acrylic on paper - 2002 - 23" x 30"

Enough for this week. I have more issues to discuss that have been raised by readers' comments, but will come back to them at a future date.

Next time (around April 9): All the Same, All Different: The Mystery Drawings!


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