If Words Could Only Express….

“I believe painting or visual art is suffocated by verbal description.”

– J.R. Baldini

First, my apologies to anyone who has wondered where I’ve been for the last 2 weeks – I’ve seriously neglected my blog (and those of others!) as a result of the large Open Studio art event Susan and i held here the last 2 weekends. It was an intense experience, as always – exhausting, exciting, perplexing, amusing and (surprisingly) quite successful! But I’m back now with an intention to resume my normal blogging schedule.

After talking to hundreds of people about my art during the event, the quote above captured my attention. When you host your own show, you are faced with the need to converse with those who show up. Certainly everything you read suggests that this is critical to sales – buyers want to get to know you, it helps them put the artwork in context. Also it’s just plain polite and sometimes you find out some really interesting things about people.

On the other hand, answering the same questions over and over again about what something is or how it was done can become maddening. I also wonder whether it is better to leave some mystery about your technique or does that seem too precious and paranoid? I don’t really worry about someone trying to copy me, since I’ll by then have moved on to doing something else anyway.

I believe there is probably some ideal balance between revealing just enough about yourself and the art and not over-describing everything to the point of “suffocation”. After all these years of doing this, I’m still searching for just what to say…

By the way, as it may be hard to tell, the above piece is a photograph of a rock formation – that’s all I’m going to say about it!

9 responses to “If Words Could Only Express….

  1. I am so excited about this piece, Bob !! I just LOVE it ! I feel a smile on my face, and eveything inside me jumping around, tickled pink ! Don’t know why, and don’t care why… Don’t know what I’m looking at, but it is not important to me.
    I am one of these people who, when looking at art, rather be left alone. Mostly because at these moments, I am all senses and no brain. And talking would bring me back to earth, or back outside of my body. I just become very quiet, very calm and very receptive…
    By the way, how come you are already the 22nd??? You on the other side of the world????

  2. Hmmm… Interesting question – why does this post say the 22nd?? My computer’s clock is correct so it must be something odd going on with WordPress. Good catch!

    Glad you like this one – I did a series of rock abstracts a while back. I love their texture, colors and shapes. Wish I could paint like that!

  3. Yes Bob, I was missing your posts a lot! Multitasking is not so easy when it involves a big art exhibition and many people, isn’t it? I find it exciting and so on, as you say, but above all exhausting for body and brain.

    I am exactly like Isabelle, I don’t want words when i am looking at art. And I quite hate to speak about my own art. I really feel that too many words about an art work kills its enchantment. At my last exhibition I was asked a lot about my Fantascape TECHNIQUE and I found out that Ii had no problems to speak about it and explain each detail. But to speak about “the soul of the painting” is not for me. If I wanted to, I would not be a painter, I would be a writer.

    I think there a deep cultural difference between USA and Europe. I find that you there are all speaking a lot about the creation process, revealing all details and steps, and you also ask other artists about their own creation process without any fear. I find that here in Europe, we are much more “discrete” in these things, we don’t ask and we are not asked. Although there are big differences from country to country. The English, for example, tend to be like the Americans.

    I remember having been many times shocked, at the beginning of my blogging, about all the “indiscreet” questions concerning my work. Now I am used to, and it is OK.
    But for myself, even if I die to know how some artist did some work, i would never ask! In terms of my own understanding of art and “good education” I find it would be a kind of “faux-pas”.
    I guess we are quite extreme in France with that. I have noticed that generally French people are far more discreet and silent when they look at art.
    For example when I am sketching in the nature in France and Spain, nobody ever comes to me and wants to look and speak with me. In Germany it is exactly the contrary, everybody comes and engages me in an endless conversation which makes me impossible to go on with my sketching!

    I have kind of the same feeling when I have to speak too much about my art: not to be able to go on then! It is like a dissection of a body… more then suffocating!

    But well, as always, I am very extreme in what I feel… can’t help it!

    Great news about the success in the Artrails!

    And your picture here is a real wonder: incredibly beautiful! Good to know that it is a rock formation at the basis, but now it is SO MUCH MORE! Simply fantastic and full of enchanted life… i especially love the little bird… wouldn’t you even tell me which bird it is? 🙂

  4. Welcome back, Bob, and congratulations on your successes during ARTrails! This quote really spoke to me. It reminded me of a time in the 1960’s when William Mann, the “serious” music critic of The Times newspaper opined the following about Lennon and McCartney’s music “…harmonic interest is typical of their quicker songs, too, and one gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of ‘Not a second time’ (the chord progression which ends Mahler’s Song of the Earth)…”

    The Beatles were self-taught, and at that time at least, did not read music, and knew little music theory. They were never quite sure what to make of Mann’s famous essay. In his last interview, Lennon joked that he thought “Aeolian Cadences” were exotic birds!

    The point is, deconstructing a work of art, disseminating it, be it a photo, a poem, a song, a painting, is like dissecting a frog in a lab. you might learn something, but what about the frog? It has ceased to be a frog anymore, and is reduced to a collection of parts. I’ve suffered myself in successive radio interviews, of falling into acute cliches, trying to serve up some information about my music that I really don’t want to impart. At school, I tired of taking poetry to pieces, it seemed pointless, because one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and , certainly in my case, the poems always seemed to mean something entirely different to me, than to the teacher! When I was told I was wrong, I replied “how do you know? the guy is dead, he might have meant something entirely different!” I wasn’t a model pupil….

  5. Miki, Kev

    Thanks for the great comments (I’ve missed them)!

    I think there are several types of conversations about one’s art – other artists often want to pick your brain about technique, critics or other professionals may want to analyze what you’ve done (I love the William Mann story!), patrons may simply want to get to know the artist better.

    Susan and I often are told by people coming to our studios that we live the “perfect life” – two artists, creating art, living in a beautiful place. It is actually pretty good, but people romanticize the life of an artist. This provides them with some enjoyment and satisfaction. Talking to the artist fills out that romantic view.

    Of course, the real life of an artist is never as romantic as some make it out to be – it’s a lot of hard work and has it’s share of drudgery (who enjoys cutting mats and framing??).

    Miki, I don’t think there is a bird in this picture but, then, you always are seeing things I don’t. Where is it? I think you’ll have to tell me what kind it is…

  6. Great to have you back, bob. I’ve mist you…

    Great “abstract” (but it proves to be very concret and representational, isn’t it?) slection you got there. Those velvety ochre orange earth tones and their texture is really great!

    As for artists and words, I have, I think, the perfect citation for that: Goethe said: “Create images, painter, don’t talk!” (maiybe the translation is not word for word exact – I’m citing from memory – but the sense is the very same!)

    I’m also glad it was a succes, your participation in Arttrails (I already told you, I believe, about a similar thing here in Estern Townships, Quebec, called La viree artistique de l<Estrie; I did participate twice… not now because you have to open your studio or mine is a very small appartment where I live…) It’s not so often, nowdays, except some like Daniel Hirst, to have artists doing well with quality, original art (easier with kitsch stuff, it seems…)

    You should see the bureaucracy here, in canada, in order to get a grant or other guvernment or foundations money! Incredible! You have to write “novels” and art treaties and very often the better you are with words, the more probable to get grants from the bureaucrats… You do not have to be very good as an artist…if you have a good “demarche artistique” (I don’t know the equivalent in english – when you describe – with words, of course – what you intend to do with your art…it should “sound” good it doesn’t have to BE good…)

  7. Danu

    Interesting what you say about grants in Canada! Maybe novelists should turn their attention to this, writing wonderful descriptions of their work, which could perhaps be quite inferior…

  8. I certainly concur with your thoughts on framing, Bob! 🙂
    Also, it is ndeed true that people have a tendency to romanticise what we do. A great friend and famous musician used to call the hour we spent onstage the “minor inconvenience” because, compared to the seemingly endless schlepping around in people carriers, aircraft, vegetating in airport lounges, etc – that brief moment in fame’s spotlight seems like just that!

  9. Thank you for that observation; I am often embarrassed by the words artists put around their art; so often it detracts from rather than enhances their work. And that’s from an English major who writes about her art DAILY!

    And I love this piece — my first love, photographically speaking, was driftwood and stone. I think it’s because I can’t build anything into the picture, either with words or with placement; the natural elements have a lovely way of speaking for themselves, in a private conversation with each viewer.

    Some of my pieces in this vein are online at http://picasaweb.google.com/woodenhue/Organics#

    I don’t get much opportunity to shoot this stuff anymore, but I still love it when such images present themselves. Thank you for this one!


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