The Subjects Painters Choose
Have you ever wondered why painters decide to paint the subjects they choose? I have. Personally, I have never been a fan of Picasso’s or Pollock’s work. But does that mean it isn’t done well? Of course not. It was done exactly the way THEY wanted it done. Besides, I’m only one person out of billions of people who love the disjointed faces of Picasso or the wild splashes of color poured or drizzled onto Pollock’s canvases. You see, I believe that unless an artist tells someone why they paint the things they do the way they do, then all we are left with is speculation.
My favorite artist is Georgia O’Keeffe. I love all of what she did, although I wouldn’t hang all of it in my house. I love her flowers the most out of all her work. But her cow’s head paintings and some of her abstract work is very interesting. Even her cityscapes she did while she lived in New York are pretty intriguing to me. She really didn’t enjoy living in the city very much, so that’s why she painted the skies and accented the sunspots and clouds she saw. Georgia absolutely loved the outdoors. That’s why she ended up living out most of her later lifetime in New Mexico. She took long walks and found all kinds of things that interested her enough to make paintings of, mostly animal skulls and bones.
In Lovingly, Georgia, on pg. 92, she said, “I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what had already been done.”
Georgia knew from the time she was a young girl that she was going to be an artist. She was also fortunate enough to be able to attend art schools growing up. She taught art for several years, but she always knew she would become who she turned out to be.
In her autobiography Georgia said, “I said to myself, ‘I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me — shapes and ideas so near to me — so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down.'” (Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe)
Before I ever studied anything at all about art, I wasn’t even the least bit interested in going to a gallery or even drawing or painting myself. It wasn’t until I went to college at 30 years of age and took an Art History class that all of this was introduced to me. I didn’t become an artist until about ten years later! But what I learned there that I think has become the most valuable knowledge for me is not to be so quick to judge the artist just because what he or she has done may not be my own taste. I wouldn’t want people to do that with my art, but they probably have. In fact, I expect it really, especially from people who aren’t art lovers in the first place. Or from people who just love to be critical about everything. The people’s opinions I take to heart the most are other artists’. Others who have studied art or those naturally talented people who just do art of all kinds, but maybe have never even read anything about it. Those are the ones whose opinions I value most.
No one knows what is going on in an artist’s mind when they are creating. Only the artists themselves know this. A perfect example is Georgia O’Keeffe. Many of the male critics in her early years of fame assumed that all of her flower paintings were expressions of some hidden sexual ideas. At first, she felt offended by this. Over time, however, she didn’t care what people said about her. She chose to paint what she wanted and how she wanted it to be.
In a gallery brochure for fifty of her flower canvases that were being shown, she was defensive of her paintings and how many of them she was showing. She said in her autobiography, “Everyone has many associations with a flower. You put out your hand to touch it, or lean forward to smell it, or maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking, or give it to someone to please them. But one rarely takes the time to really see a flower. I have painted what each flower is to me and I have painted it big enough so that others would see what I see.” (Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe, bold italics mine).
This is what I love about her. She took the time to tell us why she did the things she did. Some of her abstract art has this same line of reasoning. She did all of her painting so we could see the things she saw, the way she saw them.
So whether you are an art lover or not, the next time you see a piece you’ve never seen, don’t be too quick to judge it. If you can, take the time to learn about the artist. You might be surprised at what you find and end up respecting the piece. Or you might still hate it. And that’s okay (as long as you don’t tell the artist you hate it). Some artists can take that, I suppose, and don’t care what we think of their work. But most artists I’ve met are sensitive and just need that extra encouragement. Which would you rather be – someone who discourages others or an encourager? I’d rather be the latter.
Until next time, have a great summer day, and give someone you love a hug.