Paint with a Literary Brush


“Art should speak for itself”, said someone on another blog about how to write artist statements. This speak volumes about so many artists in two distinct ways:

1 – We (artists) assume that people will just understand the picture.

2 - We have not utilized or developed our ability to be creative in other ways.

If you’re like me, you’re not good with on-the-spot-explanations. During a show, when someone asks me “what is this about?, my initial response isn’t always the most graceful and I’ll go over the failed attempt at verbalizing the answer in my head before I go to bed and think, “why don’t you just get it?”. As artists, we need to remember that people are not mind readers.  People communicate differently, and understand differently based on their experiences and education. A person could associate red with one meaning and someone else associates red with another meaning. Just because you used the color red in what you think is a universal meaning, it may not translate the same way for someone else.

Furthermore, not everyone thinks art is important. So how to you get a message across to a person who says they don’t enjoy art and thinks that the only good art is the hyper-realistic copies of reality? Verbal communication is as important as visual communication in this instance.

The last two times I shared a painting with an explanation on facebook, it was shared again. One person who shared, wrote “..and she even gives an explanation with her work. This particular piece really resonated with me because…”. When people could read an explanation, they began to share it more often because they could understand it now. 

But if you haven’t noticed, I’m not a huge fan of pre-determined meanings. In other words, I don’t like to tell people what to think. I want people to use their own experiences to connect with the visual subject. Sometimes people are able to do this, and a work became something they fell in love with because it brought back a fond memory, or it resonated with their philosophies and ideologies. But sometimes, people just stare at it and ask, “what is this about?” so for them, they need the prescribed meaning because maybe, they might not feel like they’re smart enough to understand, even though, I believe art is for everyone, and should never make someone feel like they’re not good enough. I for one, don’t get all works of art and find myself even needing explanations so if I know that even I, an artist the supposed, stereotypical, creative and open-minded type, need an explanation from time to time, then that must ring true for others too.

As for the second issue with artists, we don’t always know how to translate our ideas into words. At times, I produce my favorite pieces when I “blank out”. It’s not like an idea was not formed before I painted but the idea seems almost spiritual, unexplainable, as if I’m having an out of body experience and I’m watching myself paint like a peeping tom. It’s surreal. Unreal. So when coming back to reality and I have to try to put that experience into translation about a specific work or body of work, it’s extremely hard. I doubt I’m the only artist this happens to.

Why is it difficult to talk about our art? And write about our work? It’s because we are not practicing and learning about speaking and writing as much as we are enhancing our visual work. We are not using our literary skills we learned back in high school or secondary school even though they seem to be extremely imperative. We need to brush up (pun intended) on our literary devices that we have at our Google disposal. Using similes, metaphors, analogies, imagery, euphemisms, alliteration, humor, and of course structure are all examples of literary devices to help write out your thoughts. We have it in us to already be creative so why not use that to our advantage in our written and vocal explanations too?

Now what happens when people don’t speak the same language?