Ever a story... waiting to be told

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Here's What I Think... I Think...

Chosen Paths - 11x14 Graphite

I often wonder how we each come to form our attitudes about artwork, and what characteristics pull us toward one piece rather than another.
At the gallery last weekend, I sold Chosen Paths. This drawing had been on display for about five months, and had received much attention and many comments from visitors, and I've appreciated and enjoyed their thoughts about the piece. Some people thought it seemed very sad or pensive.  Other people said how calming and peaceful it was, or how it moved them to strong feelings about themselves and their own lives. Two women asked about the meaning that the piece held for me, personally, and I told them that it was, in many ways, my own self-portrait. We talked about the different paths in the drawing and the lightness and darkness of the path, and the areas behind and ahead of the subject, and whether she was looking backward or just looking down. Was she really on the path at all, or standing to the side of it? We also discussed her expression and what it might be revealing. One woman confessed that she felt like she was looking at her own portrait in the piece. After they left, the other woman came back and secretly bought the drawing for her friend!
The other piece that seems to evoke a wide variety of responses is my new Poe drawing. Some say it's creepy, some say it's charming. People who associate the drawing with the name of Poe might see it as a foreboding, eerie scene.  Others see it as a serene autumn scene with a storybook cottage. It conveys a completely opposite mood.
Is it ever possible to have a totally authentic, uninfluenced reaction to a piece of art? I guess some people look for the emotion they feel from a piece of art, others look at the colors or the design, and whether or not the subject appeals to them. There are also viewers who base their response on the technique of the artist and the medium used. But do we come to our conclusions freely, or have we been subconsciously influenced to think as we do?
I just finished reading a novel called The Painted Girls, about three sisters who danced in the Paris ballet, and modeled for Edgar Degas. Marie was the model for the famous sculpture, "Little Dancer." Before I read the book, I didn't realize that I had been seeing Degas' work through the eyes of the popular cultural views of our times now. I thought that his work exhalted ballerinas and honored the prestige of the ballet, and all that. I thought the Little Dancer sculpture was sweet and poignant. However, that is NOT at all what Degas was portraying back in 1881. He was depicting the low-class 'gutter rats' of the day! He had an unusual theory that certain facial features identified a person as a lowly miscreant, and he chose Marie because she had those features. He didn't have any respect for the dancers, or any appreciation of the beauty of the ballet. He was using them as examples of low social class and depravity. Knowing this now, I look at his work with a totally different opinion. I still think it's beautiful work, yet with a very melancholy tone. (But this new opinion is not truly my own, either, because it's been influenced by what I read, which may or may not be accurate.)
I guess we can never truly react to anything without some influence from our past experiences. But we should be aware that we have those influences in our minds, and try to look around them, with an open mind,  to clearly see what is before us.
How about each of you? Do you get a variety of responses to some of your own work? Are you ever surprised at something that somebody sees in a particular piece?


  1. Hi, Katherine. Another thought-provoking post. I love the unpredictable nature of each viewer's response to a piece of art, always a self-portrait in there. Would we want it any other way? Could there be "art" if there was no variety to the viewer's response?

    Regarding your Degas epiphany, I had a similar experience after reading the essays in Degas: A Dialogue of Difference by Werner Hofmann. I still see the beauty in Degas' vision, but the reality of his subjects is always in the back of my mind, and taints my enthusiasm for his work. He found the beauty in the truth.

  2. Katherine - this is very insightful as to why certain pieces speak differently to others. I think you are so right no one can be completely unbiased. I remember you posting Chosen Paths in a previous writing and asking each of us what we thought when we saw this work. Personally I didn't read others comments until I placed mine...did not want to be influenced...not always is it that simple to do. The book about Degas work sounds like it was quite interesting. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Have a lovely day.

  3. Totally enjoyed your post. I read very carefully and think that we influence people from the inside out. I used to paint a cat named Charlot. Some paintings can still be found on my site but each time I had them exposed people would comment about their life and how the painting seemed to be them. I love when that happens. Congratulations on your well deserved sale.

  4. Congratulations on selling this drawing Katherine. How wonderful for you to hear so many comments on the piece and how differently it affects each person. That is one thing I love about art. I'm always surprised when someone sees something in my art that I never intended and usually, once they say what they see, then I starting seeing the work differently.

  5. Congratulations on selling the piece! Its always so nice when something you draw or paint connects with someone. I myself am moved by so many different things in art. I've always loved Degas' work. Its hard to believe he didn't have just a little appreciation for the beauty of what he was drawing, since he made such beautiful drawings! Also, people like us (artists) look at art through a different lens than 'regular' people - in his day, maybe the gutter rat or 'common' aspect of the subject was clear.

  6. This is a beautiful piece and your post left me with many thoughts to ponder while I am working on my own paintings. Love that about your art and your writing.

  7. Congrats on your sale, Katherine. As far as I know a good picture book illustrator may convey a message ( in a narrow way). A better illustrator leaves a space for readers. Illos tap heart. The more, readers imagine a story, the better, picture book illustrations are, I assume.
    Kind regards, Sadami
    Best wishes, Sadami

  8. Felicidades por este trabajo, lleno de detalles, dibujas maravillosamente bien! un abrazo

  9. Candace's last line has me thinking. A shame to know Degas did not see the beauty of the dance but the beauty in the truth (which I have to say is as he saw it). I think any painting that evokes thoughts and/or feelings or impressions...is a successful piece. It is when one takes a painting in as a whole and gets nothing that I would deem it a failure. I tend to do this with my own pieces but rarely with any other artist's work. Congratulations on the sale! I love the piece!!

  10. Great news on the sale of this piece and lucky new owner!

    I agree we are all influenced by external factors and societal norms when we see a piece of art. The whole art world is a bit false in some ways as people follow names or trends instead of what really speaks to them. Artists usually don't have a lofty vision that critics love to talk about, but simply an interest is shape and colour or exploration of a subject or topic. In Degas' time, societal views were different - or maybe not that different, we just choose to be politically correct now.

    Having said that, when we see a piece, we relate our own experiences to it. And that's a good thing, its what sells art work - that intimate connection that someone feels with the drawing or painting. For artists, we have the same feelings as anyone else when viewing art and our own likes and dislikes, but often its seen through a veil of wanting to know "how did they do that" on the technical side. Then colour, light, execution and subject all fall into line to make the viewer linger.

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  12. What a wonderful drawing and congratulations on it's sale. You can weave a tale about her. So fascinating. I am always surprised at what people say about my work as I just have fun painting whatever I want.

  13. Congrats on the sale Katherine, interesting experience to enjoy different perceptions to the same art, that means the art is strong and thought provoking, more so successful!

  14. i've often pondered this, but more in relation to books than artworks. i loved john irving and he spoke at the university of iowa (where he had also attended the writer's workshop) while i was there. i was so excited and went to see him. and he was totally a pompous, arrogant asshole (sorry for swearing on your blog) and it clouded my opinion of his books for years afterwards. i can read and appreciate them again now, but it took a long time.

    as for an artwork, i saw Matisse's "Red Room" at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and i had read somewhere along the way that it was originally green, but that he had changed it to red when his wealthy Russian patron requested that he do so. i thought it was pretty cool that you could still see the green bits around the edges here and there. it felt like being in on a secret. tho' it was perhaps disappointing that even Matisse would cater to what the market wanted.

  15. Katherine, what a beautiful post! I love reading all you had to say. Who knew about Degas ballerinas? I've read other reasons why he was there...

    I was stunned by your drawing. I have to admit, I instantly thought of you when I saw the woman. Your trees and roots reminded me of your ball of yarn and what struck me instantly was that you had really come to find your voice. There's a particular softness in this piece that is very touching. How wonderful that you got to keep memories of your conversation with the two women, who eventually bought the piece. It's always nice to know someone who bought a work of art is really going to appreciate it for all it's wonderment and aspects. Congrats!

  16. Such a wonderful post as always, Katherine. It's always interesting getting everyone's opinion on how they see a painting... Congratulations on selling this piece!
    I think you did a beautiful job on the details on this drawing...!

    It's wonderful getting so many opinions on a painting, Katherine...you did an amazing drawing here and Congratulations on selling it. I always loved all the details you put into this drawing!!!

  17. The Cincinnati Art Museum just brought out their collection of Degas pastels! I went to see it last week, and I definitely recommend!
    I really love your graphite pieces!

    1. I didn't know, Sarah! Thank you for telling me. I'm going to go see it!

  18. Congratulations on the sale Katherine! I actually see a woman who has stopped "to smell the roses", only in this instance "the roses" are the small details of nature that she has stopped to admire even thought the path is familiar to her. With her age comes the wisdom of knowing to take the time to "smell the roses".
    I guess it's not surprising that we all interpret works of art differently, as we all interpret the world around us differently too.
    A great thought provoking post as usual Katherine! I so enjoy visiting your blog!

  19. What an interesting post. You always raise such thought provoking topics. I had no idea about Degas and his dancers but that certainly would cat a different light on things. I think it's fantastic that your art provokes such feelings and responses in people and how lovely that the lady bought it for her friend! I'm not sure what I look for in at I can admire the technical brilliance of a hyorr5 realistic painting yet I wouldn't choose to hand it in my home. I tend to be drawn to colours and textures rather than a specific subject although I tend to stick to the same subject of animals and nature in my own work. I suppose personal beliefs would sway opinion as well but again I think there's a difference between appreciating the technical ability of the artist and what the subject of the painting is.

  20. This is a very interesting post, Katherine, it made me think about how I look at art work. And what about Degas, I never knew. I think there is a lot of room for interpretation in your drawing, and everone sees their own path I believe. I really like it, and the more I look the more I see. Congratulations on it's sale, a lovely story about the two ladies.

  21. Katherine, te diré que este dibujo está maravillosamente realizado. Eres una gran dibujante. Independientemente de lo que quieras expresar en él. Eso es subjetivo. Cada persona percibe de diferente manera aquello que está viendo. Afortunadamente. Sería muy triste que todos viéramos un cuadro y nos causara la misma impresión.
    Degas, fuera depravado o no, nos dejó unas obras magníficas. Incluso con cierta melancolía, como la expresión de la bailarina.
    Me gustan todas esas reflexiones que haces en voz alta!
    Un abrazo.

  22. Josh's Comment Translated:
    Katherine, I will say that this drawing is wonderfully done. You are a great artist. Regardless of what you want to express it. That is subjective. Each person perceives differently that you are viewing. Fortunately. It would be very sad that all we saw a picture and cause the same impression.
    Degas left some magnificent works. Even with some sadness, as the expression of the dancer.
    I like all those thoughts you do it loud!

  23. I don't feel a need to determine what you were trying to express. I'm too busy feeling blow away by your skill level and creativity. Each time I visit your blog, your skills have somehow catapulted up to a new level! Congratulations and keep on illustrating!
    I feel sad if that's true about Degas. Somehow I can't quite believe he had such negative thoughts when creating such beauty.

  24. Congratulations on the sale Katherine! How satisfying for you to know it went to a good home. I love how you bring up these questions, great story behind the drawing. Amazing facts about Degas, changing attitude of that era.

  25. Bonjour ma chère Katherine,

    Tout d'abord laisse-moi te féliciter pour cette vente... Un bébé qui s'en va apporte toujours une certaine joie mêlée à de la peine... Un sentiment étrange.
    Je suis certaine que nous sommes tous influencés par une une histoire ou un vécu, par des couleurs, une lumière, un état d'âme... Notre esprit est une éponge.
    Nous ne pouvons pas admirer parfois sans faire certaines comparaisons... S'approprier une oeuvre passe parfois par cette analogie.
    Nous créons et le spectateur s'empare de votre oeuvre et l'adapte à son diapason.
    Je comprends votre ressenti en ce qui concerne Degas. je ne connaissais pas l'histoire...
    Un gros bisou à toi et continue de me séduire par tes merveilleuses oeuvres.

  26. Katherine, congratulations on the sale! I remember it left an impression when you first posted it :)

    Yes I get different responses to my paintings and sometimes no response too ! And thats ok, because I seem to react that way every now and then.

    Here is something that might interest you about Degas - from a review that I had vagurely remembered reading and had to go hunting for it before I posted a comment here ! http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2009/jan/12/degas-women-germaine-greer : "

    "Degas's brother René is said to have destroyed 70 pornographic sketches that were found at the time of the artist's death. One escaped and can be seen in this exhibition. Joris-Karl Huysmans was troubled by what he saw as "scorn and loathing" for women in Degas's work. It is undeniable that most of Degas's women are faceless and abject, foreshortened heaps of limbs and buttocks, but ultimately it is less insulting to women to show their bodies coarsened by privation and hard work, by age and ill health, than it is to show them forever delectable and young."

  27. Hey K!

    Congratulations on the sale!

    Not being an artist, I can't comment on your questions. However, with my glamorous retail background, I can woot! woot! your sale!

    How difficult is it for you to part with a piece (of yourself, I perceive) when it sells? After the thrill of the sale, do you have pangs of regret when the piece goes to its new owner?

    1. I do, Wryly. All of the people who have bought my prints or original artwork have been very appreciative and really seemed to have a personal connection to the piece they bought. So I feel good that those pieces will be cared for in their new homes. But some of the commissions I've done have seemed more like a business transaction and left me feeling kind of used, for lack of a better word. I once heard an artist at a workshop say that his paintings were like puppies. He couldn't sell any until he had a certain amount on hand, and even then, he wanted to be sure they went to good homes.

    2. Good answer! I would think it would be more difficult to part with the pieces that were your idea versus the commissions, which were someone else's idea to start, if that makes a bit of sense.

  28. Congratulations Katherine on the sale of this beautiful and deeply moving piece. I remember this piece and just had to go back and see my own comment...curious to see if I felt the same way about it as I did back when you first posted it and I did...such a sad feeling...and so much mystery. Where has she been? Where is she going? It's really a beautiful work.

    I love that the piece was purchased as a gift and the reasons for its purchase...that her friend saw herself. To me, this is the highest compliment a buyer can give...to say that what you have made makes them see either themselves or someone they care about. This is truly very special and it is what makes it bearable to let our hard work go forever.

    I am so sad to learn these things about Degas, because I too had an exalted view of him. How can paintings and drawings and sculptures of the human body in such delicate artful form be anything but lovely and full of high class? My views of Andrew Wyeth were recently darkened also after reading about a cold comment he made about Christina, his young neighbor with polio in Maine who he painted in Christina's World. That painting was always precious to me and now when I look at it it's tainted by the reality that painting Christina was basically just another day at the office for Wyeth...it wasn't a tender expression of compassion as I originally thought. He was kind of a jerk in real life...not the New England grandpa with a pipe in his teeth and a paintbrush in hand telling us his tender stories. Boo. It's kind of like watching a scary movie where you just want to cover your eyes and not see what's really happening.

    So happy for you Katherine! Love reading your posts too. I always learn something when I visit your blog.