We See What We Want to See in Life and in Art….

I have recognized an expression in my four-month-old granddaughter’s face that has captivated me. I couldn’t quite place it but something about her expression kept me coming back to a particular set of photos. I went through the usual exercise of my daughter’s nose, my son-in-law’s eyes and all that is true of course but I saw something every now and again I couldn’t directly attribute to either. The videos and candid photos gave me pause as there was just something that struck me and warmed my heart at the same moment that I didn’t quite visually understand. Like inspiration it struck me in a thunderous way as I sipped my coffee while planning the day ahead this morning. I quickly made my way up to my studio just before 5 a.m. knowing exactly where the photo rested that would provide me with my answer. In my studio on my bookshelf is a black and white photo of my mother from when she was a baby. That’s it!!!! Clear as the image before me. My granddaughter shares an expression passed down from my mother that I hadn’t ever consciously noticed or ascribed to my own daughter. Miraculous or did I just need to see what I wanted to see? 

In the art world we can get down in the weeds about what constitutes a “good” piece of art. Brush strokes, use of color, juxtaposition of color, composition, technique, creativity etc. Certainly, there are standards in art. No doubt about it but there is also something much more user friendly in the world of art. How we identify with a painting. We fall in absolute love with our child’s first drawing. A masterpiece. We fawn over a child’s first self-portrait never mind when they expand their composition to include their family, pet and home. We imagine one day a Christie’s auctioneer bringing down the gavel when our child’s “early” art fetches a tidy sum as collectors clamor to bid on it. There is greatness in those first Crayola strokes. Genius is evident and notable advanced skills are represented in those stick figures that could easily represent basically any family. Well, as long as the mom has wavy hair illustrated by the usual squiggle across the top of her circular head. We see what we want to see even in light of standards of excellence.

It is not so different in painting. When I compose a painting, I am certain there are many unconscious choices that I make in accordance with what I identify with as a human. For instance, barns fascinate me. They possess history, are mysterious, represent the current farming struggles of our day while also the structural reminders of days gone by and in some cases illustrate decay.  I often get lost in romantically thinking about the generations of farmers that daily worked and toiled in any given barn I pass by. How I represent a barn in a landscape painting is obviously the development of the structure and how it sits on the land but how I emphasize its importance is often through the use of color. Color speaks to my heart and hopefully to the viewer. I am currently working on a small landscape painting illustrating a set of barn structures that I adore. I have painted these structures a number of times and never the same way twice. One landscape version of this set of structures I painted is in shades of white with pink undertones indicating a warm New England season. The piece I am currently working on has warm tones in the structures and deeper shades in the landscape that supports the farmhouse and barns. Certainly not representative of the actual cool gray barns but instead a warm saturation of intense colors. Barns of deep purples played against yellows and rusted oranges are not your usual Vermont barn but in January we are all seeking warmth.

There is genius in some artists. Simply no doubt about that but for us mortal painters there can be a likeability that pays a few bills or more importantly more supplies. Both have their merit and place in the world of art. A high-level collector is just that and should not dictate nor diminish the how and why we fall in love with a painting that speaks to us. We can simply identify with a painting after all love is love! My sister has one of my favorite paintings hanging in her beautiful home and not because it is masterful but because it appealed to her. We are very close, so I am certain when she looks at the little floral painting it is a reminder of our sisterhood that we cherish. I suspect ultimately rendering it not so far removed from our early family Crayola portrait drawing. However, she better not draw a squiggle across the top of that floral even though she could get even with me for some of those early childhood shenanigans I “might” be guilty of…

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” 
― Pablo Picasso

Author: Elizabeth Ricketson

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts. Elizabeth’s essays focus on life experiences and life in Vermont.

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