Some things I think about

I want my painting to communicate visually. That’s why I don’t always give each painting a verbal explanation (aside from sometimes feeling lazy about writing!).

However, I do have certain ideas which are related to my painting which I’d like to talk about here.

In my artwork the trigger is usually my emotional response to a particular visual experience  which affected me in a given place & moment in time. The experiences which I have been concentrating on are often of moments where  time seems to have stood still & there was a complete feeling of harmony & being part of the world.  The painting itself can become a bit like wanting to capture the essence of the moment & to extend if for eternity.

Perhaps many of us feel something along these lines given our otherwise rushed, hectic lives?

One of my objectives for my painting (as most  artists I suppose) is to try to put down my personal responses. I hope that my work can communicate something to some people.

Another objective  is to say “Look!”

We are all experts in seeing in the sense that we have evolved that way. If not we would never have survived to be the humans we are today.

When we see we are constructing visual depth, shape , colours, contours, visual boundaries & so on in our minds. We constantly make sense of an enormous quantity of visual stimulae (let alone any other types).

This takes place continually & for the most part is fairly unconscious. If it weren’t I suppose our brains would become totally overloaded.  At a certain point we would then be put under the such & such syndrome or mad category.

Another diverging but interesting question is at what point  is somebody considered to be “mad”? Of course there are so many degrees & it depends who is judging. I could argue that everybody is or that nobody is. I could also argue that that statement is false because there must be some sort of definition, presumably agreed on by culture.

If you are still coping with reading this, (& maybe you decided I’m totally mad)  I’d better go back to the point I was making about Looking as opposed to Seeing. I think that when we really look we are engaged in a more conscious proccess than just seeing.

This can help us perhaps to have more of a sense of being connected with the world. To look also contributes to the analysis of forms & a perception of underlying fundamental structure.

At this level of  looking I begin to find arbitrary the use of the word “Abstract” as opposed to “Figurative” or “Representational”.

I particularly like the following quote by Arthur Dove:

“There is no such thing as abstraction: it is extraction, gravitation, and minding your own business.”

Just about all painting requires consideration of the arrangement of space. A lot of the time whether  it is abstract or not depends on the scale we look at (zoom) – Ok I know I’m not saying something new!.

Another question that interests me is what causes  the emotional response?

Obviously this varies depending on the original stimulus. It is also subjective given that all interpretation depends on your previous experience.

However, there do seem to be some overall rules which we can’t escape.

Here’s an  example to show what I mean; Why are light & dark such  important elements in design or the composition of a painting?

 I believe that  they can create an emotional response in the viewer  & I guess they help us to quickly clarify  which shapes to interprete.

Why or how do they do this ?

Because (simplifying a lot!) chemicals are triggered in the brain by the visual stimulae. Our brains have evolved to recognise changes in light or dark. Even a 7 month old baby can already distinguish between light & dark. This suggests to me that this ability has been fundamental to our survival.

 Given this is such a basic visual structure that helps us to establish what’s what, this must be one of the fundamental aspects to consider in most  compositions.

Of course, you can apply similar questions & answers to loads of other aspects, such as line, colour , grouping  etc.

Perhaps asking these sorts of questions helps us understand why we like or dislike certain images regardless of  their degree of abstraction.

Or do you respond just to subject matter? Or is it a bit of both? Or is it simply cultural?

What do you think?


20 thoughts on “Some things I think about

  1. I like your paintings very muich, so fresh and clean.
    We all see things in a different way and see colours in a differnt way.
    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment .

  2. I found your blog because you commented on the We Are All Experts event on Nuara’s blog. I’m glad I did.
    This page was very interesting to read, you have an interesting mix of artistic/emotive/scientific ways of looking at things. I particularly liked when you said “Just about all painting requires consideration of the arrangement of space. A lot of the time whether it is abstract or not depends on the scale we look at (zoom).”, it reminded me of fractal geometry.
    Thanks for the interesting read!

    • Thank-you very much for your comments. It’s interesting to hear other peoples’ responses. I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner, I’ve been away.
      I often think there should be more of an overlap between art & science in education & although I don’t have any science background I have probably read more books on science over the last few years than before.

  3. Hi Sonya – these are great questions – the question is about the relevance of the artist.
    This is something I am pondering as I divide my time between consulting to business and painting. So thanks for the platform here.
    I think beauty and art is tied up with meaning. I heard a quote that ‘art is getting across indefinable yet inescapable meaning’ though I did not catch who made it.
    Also CS Lewis said ‘reason is the organ of truth – imagination is the organ of meaning’

  4. Hi

    First of all, thanks for all the comments.

    I’m not quite sure what you meant by the relevance of the artist? Do you mean what is the role of the artist today?
    Assuming that is your question I’d say it must vary depending on what the individual artist is trying to communicate and what society they are in.

    You say that you think beauty and art are tied up with meaning.

    What interests me is what causes certain arrangements/compositions to invoke a sense of meaning in the viewer?

    Obviously this varies depending on the viewer’s personal interests, personal history, cultural background & so on.

    On the other hand, I think humans have interpretations of basic pictorial elements which are universal . Most of the time we probably don’t consciously realise that these elements are present in what we see.

    I’m especially interested in this aspect in relation to landscape & what causes our emotional response to it.

    I find interesting the following quote from the book “Monuments and Landscape in Atlantic Europe – Perception and Society during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ” edited by Chris Scarre, published Routledge :

    “In a recent paper on Australian sacred landscapes, Paul Taçon has pointed out that particular landscape features invoke special feelings of wonder, respect and reverence, which are universal to humans(Taçon 1999, 36-7). First among them we may consider those generated by ‘great acts of natural transformation’ like mountain ranges, gorges, steep valleys; second, ‘junctions or points of change between geology, hydrology and vegetation’; third, distinctive landscape features such as caves or prominent peaks; and finally, places that command extensive views across the landscape (Taçon 1999,37). This idea is paradigmatic as it seems that there are basic principles which underlie the human conceptualisation of space.”

  5. Hi Sonya
    this post makes me reflect from time to time about why I paint and what I paint. And I am not sure I understand either. I paint what I see and if it appeals to me I try to show what I like about it.
    thanks for your thoughts

  6. Hi Stephen

    I guess in the end it’s something you just have to do.

    What I find interesting is how what one artist picks out & visually frames is different from another artist’s way of seeing. In fact I think we think we paint what we see but it’s not as simple as that because we make choices about leaving out lots of what we see as well .
    I think that when you comment that you “try to show what I like” you too are making choices about what to show or not.

  7. Hi Sonya. Art is expression and you do a good job of that. I love your shapes and your design. I think art is more than what can be defined because we are all different. I take classes because I want to know what “trips other artist’s triggers” but in the end I want to see better and replicate what I see and leave a piece of myself behind. From the beginner to the advanced artist, I want to see it all before I go. Everytime I begin to set perameters on what art should include, something amazing comes along that blows my definition away. As a result,I try toexplore everything I possibly can expose myself to so that I might be able to share with my students that everyone is an artist in their own expression. I try to offer them something that eliminates that judgement they set up so they can achieve. Improvement comes with repetition not because we study the masters or because we follow rules but because we care enough to record and express ourselves.I see that in your work and celebrate its beauty. You and I study art, teach art, and explore and explore. Tomorrow? someone incredible can come along and express something so incredible and beautiful, without one lesson, and we all go oooooooooh! I love art!

  8. Hi Leslie
    Thank-you very much for commenting on this post and sharing your ideas here.

    It ‘s so true that the majority of what we are able to do was not learnt from lessons. ( Not that that makes lessons invalid!)

    The rules I am referring to are not rules for how you should or shouldn’t create art.

    Everyone is an individual with their own responses, emotions , backgrounds etc.. I like to ask children in my classes how many different pictures they could make using whatever technique I have just demonstrated. I like them to realise that their possibilities are endless & that this comes from exploration & making choices.

    To go back to the rules, I am referring to innate rules of vision. These interest me as being one of many ways of learning more about myself & how & why I have emotional responses (the ooh factor). I certainly don’t ever expect to get all the answers!

    Having a few possible explanations doesn’t in any way lessen the emotion I feel at the time . It’s more a question of scale & context.
    For example learning about the chemical reactions in my body from eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake is fascinating. But I don’t need to know that at the level of appreciating my cake. In fact I’d probably prefer you didn’t tell me all about it when I’m eating it!

    Sometimes I think I don’t express all my ideas as well as I’d like. So … I’m going to copy out this excerpt from a book on “Visual intelligence – How we create what we see” by cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman:

    “These innate rules, which grant visual mastery to the child by age one and lead to consensus in the visual constructions of all normal adults despite the infinite ambiguity of images, I call the rules of universal vision. ..

    The rules of universal grammar (according to Chomsky) allow a child to acquire the specific rules of grammar for one or more specific languages. These specific rules are at work when the child, having learned a language, understands or utters sentences of that language.

    Similarly, the rules of universal vision allow a child to acquire specific rules for constructing visual scenes.”

    Here, to avoid confusion , he is talking of constructing at the retina, rather than on the paper!

  9. Hi leslie

    I’m really greatful to you for commenting . It’s perfectly possible I wasn’t clear enough & I hope this has enabled me to make myself clearer.

    It’s so easy to make assumptions that other people are following on the same train of thought & jump several stages of explanation. Everyone’s starting point is different.
    I witness missinterpretations just about every day as children at school respond spontaneously to one another because of something they think the other one said or did.

    And as adults we’re not immune either- luckily most of the time we’ve learnt to control our reactions & be polite like you are!

  10. What you’ve written above got me thinking about things, and I have a feeling that I will be learning a lot from you! I’m not creative in art or music, though I appreciate them both intensely. But I do love to write, and would like to write more about those “moments where time seems to have stood still and there was a complete feeling of harmony and being part of the world,” which have also inspired you. When I have those extraordinary moments of transcendence I also wish I could “capture the essence” and find some way to adequately describe it.

    Recently I saw the movie about the French painter Séraphine Louis, and wondered about the definition of madness myself.

    What you say about looking and seeing reminds me of a quote attributed to Henry David Thoreau: “”It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” I like your Arthur Dove quote! I’m looking forward to browsing around your blog…

  11. It’s very kind of you to take the time to read all my waffling! I’m not sure I can live up to your very big compliment on learning a lot from me. In fact I could be learning from you I should say. Thank-you for the quote by Henry David Thoreau, I like that.

  12. Sonya,
    I came across your site whilst searching for information regarding Dorothy Burroughes. I find your interpretation of shadow and colour shocking (in a good way), so unfamilar whilst contained in a familar outline. I find your work reminiscent of Fred Taylor and of Harry Epworth Allen. I enjoy the work of both and I am sure that your work will accomplish similarly.
    Greetings from Cleethorpes, N E Lincolnshire

  13. Thank-you very much for your comment. I always find it interesting to discover artists unknown to me (as well as the range of connections different people see between artworks) – I just did a quick search & I particularly like the images I found by Harry Epworth Allen.

  14. Hi Sonya. I appreciate what you say about the deluge of images and details, and what makes it to the page/canvas. I like the detail and although I don’t always feel compelled to record it, I am always amazed at what I didn’t see. A good example is the horizon. At the lake where we have a cabin, it was quite a while before I realised there were a church and houses on the farther shore. I only saw the nearby. Some of that is my training as a botanist. However, some of it is about keeping out the deluge. Jane

  15. I’m not sure if I “didn’t see” your comment or if I did & didn’t get round to replying – think it was that one! I agree about “keeping out the deluge” – it would be impossible to be really conscious of every detail all the time – we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. I think everyone must block out what they are less interested in too.

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