Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making the Invisible Visible: Part II

In a previous post, I described how artists make the invisible visible.  You can re-read it by clicking here: Making the Invisible Visible.

In this post, I will add new information and a challenge.

First, some backstory: I spent a week in Crested Butte, Colorado, and I have been back in steamy Delaware for only a few days.

I miss the cool, clear, mountain air.  I miss the colors.  I miss the quiet.  I miss everything about Crested Butte.

That said, while there I worked on a painting using a landscape of a field backed by a mountain.

Here is a photograph of the top of the mountain:

When onlookers stopped to see what I was doing, I asked them to look at the top of the mountain and tell me what they saw.

You try it.  Make a list of what you see in the photograph.

Take your time.

Here is the list of what some of the onlookers said:  (1) a tan (or peachy-colored) area with lots of green below it; (2) a mountain with no trees on top; (3) two mountains with bare ground on top and trees below.

How did your list compare with their lists?

Then I asked my onlookers to examine the top of my painting. Here it is:

“What ya smokin?’ one asked.

Make another list of what you see.

I’ll wait.

I suspect your list includes some of the following: (1) sliced multi-colorful geometric shapes; (2) rolling color shapes that recede in space; (3) a series of curvy bands and strips of color that move backward in space.

I have to admit to feeling surprised by what I used and what I changed, because I believed I was accurately depicting what was there.

I had no idea I changed anything.  As I worked, I felt like I was “copying” exactly what I saw.  But what I saw was not what other people saw.  Not even close.

A story Ed Loper told me sums this up.

A young Ed Loper, a high school graduate with no art background, trained by the Works Progress Administration to produce exact watercolor reproductions of early American antiques, went off one day to watch Horace Pippin work on a painting in West Chester, PA.  He stood behind Pippin and looked at his picture and at the scene Pippin was using as a subject.

Here is the picture Pippin painted:

 West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1942, Oil on fabric, Wichita Art Museum
As Ed Loper watched Pippin work, he thought these thoughts: “What is he doing?  The road isn’t black. It’s light tan in the sun. The houses are not flat. They are three-dimensional. Doesn’t he know anything about perspective?  Why does he have all those little flower shapes in the tree? Why did he make some windows black and some white? I don’t see what he sees.” 

Pippin stopped working, turned to Ed, and said: “Ed, you know why I’m great?” 

Ed said “No,” because he really wanted to know. 

“Why?”  he asked. 

Pippin replied, “Because I paint things exactly the way they are….I don’t do what these white guys do.  I don’t go around here making up a whole lot of stuff.  I paint it exactly the way it is and exactly the way I see it.”

This is as good a summation of creative seeing I have encountered, and it matches my experience in Crested Butte.

Here is the picture I painted:

 Now you may be thinking, “The horses?  Were they there or not?”

Yes, they were there, off and on, when they showed up from the other side of the field.  Did they pose for me?  I wish.  They chased each other, they rolled on the ground, and they sometimes curled up and went to sleep.  I put them where I needed them, in the shapes I needed them to be.

Here is a photograph of the horses:

Here is my picture upside down:

Study the painting right side up or upside down.

Make a list of what you see.

(A reminder: if you click once on any image in this post, it will open in another window and be larger, clearer, and easier to study.)

Send me your responses via e-mail by clicking here: e-mail Marilyn.

In the next post, I will summarize how I used creative seeing to uncover aesthetic visual meaning in a mountain landscape.


  1. Hard to imagine that either you or Pippin "believed I was accurately depicting what was there." I am guessing - caveat:as someone who does not paint - that if you were striving for accuracy, you were perfectly capable of reproducing what was in the photo. However, because you are artists, you and Pipin were striving to - as Miss deMazia would say - remake the world as you wished it to be.

  2. What you say is definitely accurate. I know I am "remaking the world, bringing it closer to my heart's desire." However, the instant I take that first "interested" look, I SEE the subject "MY WAY." I "SEE" it. That is what I am trying to say. It is not so much what I choose to distort or add or delete. It is that the entire subject, once subjected to my interest, feels visually REAL--as though I am merely recording what is in front of me. This is what Pippin told Ed Loper. After that, Ed Loper realized artists have the ability to "make the invisible visible." This entire experience falls under the category of "mystical" or "what is real?" I'll try to explain it more clearly in the next post.