Subjects and Objects

“Every good painter paints what he is.”

– Jackson Pollack

My friend Gayle raised some eloquent and thoughtful points in my last posting so I thought I’d continue the thread a little more. I am most grateful for such contributions as they make me think more about things I do not understand – such as “what is art?”, “why do I do it?”, “how should I place value on it?”. Well, that list goes on and on. And Jerry Dodrill offers another perspective, one in which art isn’t different than what else one does with passion in their life. There are so many vantage points from which to consider these questions.

“Is art a pretty picture or the lived experience of a moment’s exchange with the ground of being, the energy field from which all comes?” Gayle asks. These certainly seem to be on opposite ends of some spectrum, don’t they? Does one have more value than the other? Centuries ago, art was meant to represent or imitate life – it’s ability to do so gave it great power, to the extent that in some cultures (Judaism, Islam, etc) it was forbidden or at least looked at with suspicion. Heck, the 2nd Commandment is about “image making”, giving it priority over activities like murder and aldultery. Over the last 200 years, simple imitation has grown to lack such impact, at least in most Western cultures. Art has become more about expressing what is inside the artist than imitation of the external world.

So how do we today view the work of a representational painter who has most skilfully recreated a still life in tremendous realistic detail? Is this a work of art? Surely it must be – it has been done artfully and is beautiful to look at.

Yet it is also a “pretty picture”. What does the painting say about the experience of the painter or what they are trying to express. It seems hard to see a connection there, we can’t tell much about the artist at all. On the other hand, this artist may be having a profound experience in creating that piece. The intensity with which the objects must be studied, the patience and discipline with which the painting is created, the concentration required may have all led to an almost ecstatic meditation inside. Does the internal experience of the ground of being need to be expressed so that others can see it and perhaps share a little of it, or not? Whose experience is involved in determining the artistic merit of a piece?

Motion arrested…

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”

– William Faulkner

I love this quote, which defines motion as life and the artist’s task to arrest it so it can be set forth again in the viewer’s eye. The dynamic tension between movement and stillness holds deep meaning for me. All of life exists in the infinitesimal gap between the two. The idea that everything exists simultaneously in such a timeless moment is echoed in areas as diverse as quantum physics, Tolle’s The Power of Now, Borges’ short story The Aleph, Zen koans and the work of M.C. Escher.


When I created this image (a combination of a figurative photograph, some crackled paint texture and 2 abstract ink and watercolor paintings) it seemed a little disturbing and I hesitated to post it. My first impression was of the figure as bound and constrained in some fundamental way. My wife saw it an immediately said “stroke” – the limp arm, the tendrils radiating in the head, the crackled skin… I realized that this image had emerged from my subconscious with the intention.

I’ve started reading the book “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, the story of a brain scientist who had a massive stroke which left her left brain cognitive functions inoperative. Given her background she knew what was happening and could observe it with insight the rest of us would not possess. While I haven’t finished the book, my understanding is that she experienced a state of bliss unknown to her before as a result of having only her right brain functions to rely on. The right brain gives us our sense of being one with the universe, among other things. This experience led her to something of a spiritual awakening that is the thrust of her book. I also spent some time yesterday with my sister, who suffered a stroke several years ago and continues to deal with the residual effects of that in her life.

So somehow this image surfaced today, another sign that our thoughts, our art and our lives are deeply intertwined in a way that surprises us, even after all these years…

The Glance

As she prepares to exit the scene, a quick glance at us over the shoulder, her head a blur, her gown frozen in time, making for an improbable pairing. She seems to have a secret we’d like her to reveal before she departs. Her presence is fleeting, our opportunity brief. Will she speak to us?

This piece is another in a series of work that combines my figurative photography with abstract paintings that I’ve done. There’s also a touch of rock texture I’ve added here and there. This one looks a little like some Impressionist painter, down to the era of the attire…

Holding On

Hands are one of the most expressive parts of the human anatomy. Over the years, I’ve photographed them many times. Painters love to draw them. Sculptors shape them. Each digit has a role, as does the palm, the veins on the back, the gentle slope and turn of the wrist.

The hands in this image have a short story to tell. What are they doing? Are they moving, or holding something? Are they letting go, or trying to grasp? Is there an embrace hidden in the image? What do they say to you?

There’s a photograph in this image of a figure, along with a painting, a layer of pure texture and the Chinese characters…

More Dancing with the Paints…

Another in my series of work combining photographs of dancers in motion with paintings. The background came from a mixed media painting I had completed a long time ago (acrylics, pastels, sumi ink, modeling paste) – I’m experimenting with integrating dancers with abstract paintings to emphasize the dynamic of motion that exists in the human form and in the form of paint on paper.

There are so many wonderful themes to explore in art – movement, light, texture, shape, color, line, etc. It’s an interesting choice to decide which to include (of course, most are there in every piece, but what to focus on?). Is the piece stronger if the focus among these is narrower? Or is it just more difficult to bring them all together, and thus less likely to be successful? Sometimes complexity is interesting in and of itself – simplicity has it’s own, but different, appeal. I know I’ve created more unsuccessful pieces by attempting to include too much than I have creating pieces that I thought too simple. The challenge with the latter group is more often not feeling like they are done, and then turning them into the former group, ie too complicated.

from behind

Sometimes it’s interesting to take a different perspective. Instead of photographing something or someone, take a different vantage point. I liked the enigmatic backside of this lovely model. Is she leaving? Is she looking at something in the distance we can’t see? Is she getting ready to turn around? Are there any subtle clues in the rise of her shoulder, the direction of her hand, the hang of her skirt? What do you think?