[BLOG POST: 10/22/23] My dad often used to say "communication is the dickens" and then shake his head and make the "tsk tsk" sound.
The best story he ever told about miscommunication was when he broke down about 10 miles from home. This was back in the '80s, before cell phones. He walked to the closest house to use their phone to call my mom and ask her to pick him up. Being rather unhappy about breaking down he wasn't as clear about his location as perhaps he thought he was. Of course he thought he was being crystal clear, and my mom thought she knew where he was so they hung up quickly.
You can probably guess what happened next. My mom drove around for over an hour looking for him in the wrong place. But she was close enough that my dad could see her driving and was helpless to get her attention. Eventually my mom found him but by that time he was so mad he couldn't talk.
Communication is HARD.
I mean, the whole point of communicating is to be understood so when you aren't understood it is very frustrating.
Art is another form of communication–a painting is a visual way of expressing something specific by the artist with and is generally accompanied by the hope that the viewer will understand the content.
But it doesn't work that way. True, the act of making art is intensely personal and has deep significance to each artist – at its core it's an expression of the artist in a specific time and place. And when an artist looks at their work they see what they were thinking, feeling, and experiencing when they made it.
But, dear reader, when YOU look at it you see something unique and personal to your life.
The artwork ends up being a projection screen for your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
I hear it all the time with my paintings which are rich in symbolism and which push/pull the lights and the darks to create dramatic compositions. They each have a story to tell but if I am not there to tell that story verbally while someone is looking at the painting they come up with their own interpretation.
For example, a friend shared my art with her own friend who said, "wow, this artist is all about death."
Hm...I don't think my paintings are about death but who knows?!?
Which brings me to this observation: once an artist shares their work with others it no longer belongs to them. It belongs to the viewer.
This can be hard for the artist. Especially an emerging artist who isn't used to people having their own relationship with the artwork. I've certainly struggled with it but I'm getting more used to it. Now I even enjoy hearing what someone else sees when they look at one of my paintings.
It's sort of like a Rorschach inkblot test.
What do you see below? 😉
Thankfully I find the act making art to be so richly rewarding that I am able to let go of how it is seen by others.
Art is a communication device but an imperfect one, and somehow that is part of its beauty and charm. It creates unique relationships and hopefully starts thoughtful conversations.