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Painting and seeing the big picture

Originally posted on November, 30, 2008

I had much to ponder during my yearly walks on the Normandy beaches. For a long time, I’ve closely observed the fabric of our cultural life. So, needless to say, there was much new in that regard. But autumn has for many years been, for me, a period of personal introspection. I have hope that this year’s effort will prove to be insightful and bring some much needed wisdom. Recognition of this need seems to come with age. Hopefully. On the practical side there is the continual need to redefine the search. It seems the creative voice must forever become more clear.

Joyce deals deeply with several aspects of creativity in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.Henry Thoreau repeatedly writes “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” The excess of details separates us from not only the world around us, but our personal understanding, and any creative efforts we subsequently make.

Back to the beach. This year, my difficulties with writing in general and the writing of this blog become more clear to me. For many years, I solved this problem of writing by simply not doing any. Problem solved. I had been determined to let my painting speak for me and I would keep my mouth shut. I sometimes wonder if I should not have continued to keep it shut. It was enough for me to have a few close friends with whom I could talk. Deeper, theoretical concerns have their own place and I long ago realized my limitations in adequately expressing them.

So, the question at hand, do I continue an effort to find a “voice” on this blog?. It seems that I have a lot of work to do in this area. First of all, it has not been easy to understand the audience since there has been little feedback. Clearly, I have not really engaged them. This past year I feel that I have been in a holding pattern simply writing “stuff” to be writing something. But sometimes things are simply like that.

This past year I’ve spent a considerable amount of time improving my digital photography skills. I hesitate mentioning this because of the obvious question: “Do you paint from, or use photographs for your painting”? In my mind the two activities are very much different, but, that having been said, anything you do intensely, affects you. Experience is to varying degrees always a reciprocal relationship. My photography and my painting, though connected, remain independent. I am sorry there I go again. It is like being in this world and not of it.

In mentioning photography I again mention the book “On Photography” by Suzan Sontag. She makes a necessary point that we need an ecology of imagery. Here’s the thing: if someone is controlling how you see the world they are controlling how you think about yourself. The only area today where thought and thinking is allowed to speculate outside the scientific domain is when we turn our attention towards the “self”. We cannot become an object to ourselves, so in this area we can speculate away to our hearts content.

I had my first camera when I was 13 years old. And taking photographs has, I believe, greatly helped me to become a thinker. As for helping me with painting, it has helped me understand what the things look like when photographed within the context of photography’s own syntax and grammar. Painting on the other hand is a translation of sensation in direct communion with nature into paint on a two-dimensional surface. That said, in more broad terms it is seeing the big picture. I might add that it is certainly not the only way to focus on the big picture, but for many it has been a useful crutch. Anything which allows us, in a healthy manner, to momentarily step outside the imposed normal consciousness and to take a second look is useful.

Published in french as Peindre et voir en grand

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