Friday, August 24, 2012

[A] Work [of Art] is Love Made Visible

In The Prophet, Khalil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible.”

I added more words to his for the title of this post.

I did so to continue the discussion I began in the last two posts: Making the Invisible Visible: Part II and What Dreams May Come.

In them, I suggested we learn to see by appreciating works of art.

The key to these adventures in perception, as Dr. Barnes called them, provides access to new visual experiences.  This allows us to sidestep the easy path of recognition and enjoy the unfamiliar, the strange, and the astounding.

Here is what John Steinbeck, writing in Newsday said:

            It occurs to me to ask how much I see or am capable of seeing.

Some years ago the U.S. Information Agency paid a famous Italian photographer to take pictures of our country.  The man traveled everywhere in the United States, and do you know what his pictures were?  Italy.  In the portraits, the countryside, in every American city—his eye unconsciously looked for what was familiar to him and found it.  This man did not see the America which is not like Italy, and there is very much that isn’t.

And so I wonder what I have missed in the trip I took down past Beersheba and the Negev to the Red Sea.  I confess I caught myself looking down at the shimmering deserts and saying, “Yes, that’s like the Texas panhandle, that could be Death Valley.”  By identifying them with something I knew, was I not cutting myself off from the things I did not know; not seeing because I did not have the easy bridge of recognition.

This is a serious thing and it extends in many directions.  Because we do not use quarter tones in music, many of us do not hear them in Oriental music.  How many people, seeing a painting, automatically dislike it because it is not familiar?  And, most important of all, how many ideas do we reject without a hearing simply because our experience pattern can bring up no recognition parallel?

The work involved in bypassing recognition is just that: work.  Call it love, commitment, passion, dedication: doing the hard work we do educates our vision.

Let’s look at the painting I made in Crested Butte, Colorado, several weeks ago:


Here is a photograph of the subject I used to make this painting:


What did I change?

Here’s my list:

1.     I changed the format from horizontal to rectilinear

2.     I eliminated much of the sky, bringing the mountain up to the top of the picture plane

3.     I eliminated the crane on the right side (truth be told, I never saw it until I looked at the photograph)

4.     I eliminated a few of the roof tops on the right side (deliberately)

5.     I changed the color, light, line, and space (never noticed I did this until I saw the photograph)


To answer this question, I find it easier to turn the picture upside down:


What do you see? (Remember, this is where you switch to creative seeing, not recognition)

Here is my list:

1.     A soft, split diamond-shaped pocket of space opens like a pita displaying small, vivid, banded color shapes.

2.     The “pita,” stuffed like a gyro with these bits and pieces of sliced color units, pushes back the triangular “mountain” and flattens like a ledge to project the “horses” and “fence posts.” 

That’s the gist of it.

Here are the clues close up:


As you examine the top of the picture, you can see how one of the two pyramidal color units that was the mountain slides behind the other.  You can also see how the “tree line” undulates back in space.  And you can see how, within each color unit, slivers of color-chorded bands ripple and swirl in soft, pastel-like hues. To continue my gyro analogy, skewers of “toothpicks” facet each area creating a kaleidoscopic effect.

Finally, the entire picture shimmers and quivers as if a mass of fireflies were swarming through it.

I suspect you are thinking: “like a gyro?”

Here is a picture of a gyro:


Look at the bottom of the gyro and compare it to the “field” in my picture.  Notice how the back of it is vertical and further back in space.  And notice how all the “stuff” in it (those rectilinear and banded color volumes) overlap and recede in that space.

That’s all I’m saying.

You may have come up with other comparisons.  That’s fine.

That’s the “creative seeing” part of this.

I used a simile to describe the qualities in my picture.  I said the picture is like a gyro. I did not say the picture is a gyro.  Think of Robert Burns’ simile: “O my Luve's like a red, red rose.”  Similes compare one thing to another.  In this case, Burns says his love shares the qualities of a rose: delicacy, softness, sweetness, fragility.  He says it in poetic language.  He stresses the “r’s” in the staccato beats of red, red, rose. 

I say my picture is like a gyro because it expresses qualities of the softness, puffiness, and sponginess of an opened pita along with the spatial recession of small, multi-colorful, units overlapping and moving back in its pocket of space.   

Just the other day, on one of my evening walks, the landscape opened up in just this way.    I am in Delaware now, not Colorado. I was not hallucinating. It’s the visual gift that keeps on giving.  Once I invented this color statement, I now can see that visual idea in our “real” world when I never did before. 

[My] work is love made visible.  

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