Looking at/being the world differently

View from Mulfra Quoit, 10" x 28"

View from Mulfra Quoit, 10" x 28"

Lately I have been thinking about the different ways people and cultures perceive and/or experience their environment. Turns out that my view of the world is not the only one, and it may not even be accurate or useful. It didn't surprise me to learn that I was ignorant. But it did blow my mind a bit to look around the edges of my assumptions.

It started at a recent talk given by artist Jaune Quick-to-see Smith at Portland Community College's annual Women in Art Lecture. She spent most of her presentation showing images of other Native artists. One thing she wanted us to notice was that the artists without European art training did not put a horizon line in their work. The reason is that for Native people the world is one united thing and not separated into earth and sky. Hence no need for a line. I imagine they can see that solid earth has a different quality than air and sky, but they are still all the same. After that lecture, all I could see was horizon lines in artwork.

I also heard a similar message from another Native person, who explained that Native people don't see themselves as separate from the planet. In fact, they are completely one with the earth and sky and everything and maybe the whole universe. The whole idea of human beings being given dominion over the earth is foreign, something made up and promoted by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Ouch! That one is hard to swallow. No wonder we (European culture) need an environmental movement to remind us to not harm the planet. If we looked at the world the way indigenous people do, it wouldn't occur to us to place profit over the health of the earth.

But getting back to art. I am not a native person; my ancestors have been colonizing and immigrating for thousands of years. I will no doubt continue to place horizon lines in my paintings since my world view includes a horizon line. The difference is that now I will know why I am including that line.

Why Representational Artwork

When I was mostly a writer, I was only interested in writing non-fiction. Making real connections between events I saw or read about was endlessly fascinating. It mattered more to me that what I wrote about actually happened. Fiction writers might say that all writing, including fiction, is based on real human emotions and experiences so at the essence are all real. And even non-fiction can stretch the truth as it transforms a story into art. Since memory is always suspect, so how can we know that what we write or draw or paint is accurate? We can't know so in that sense maybe all art or expression is imagined.

But when I paint images of ancient sites in my current series, it is crucial to me that the places are real, and that other people have visited them and know about them. And that people will be inspired to visit them after seeing the paintings. And that their perceptions of the places will be changed through seeing my perspective. It is even more meaningful to imagine the people who planned and built them thousands of years ago. I wonder about their lives and their relationship to the land. So even though I make the stones red, pink, blue, yellow, green, the sites are recognizable.

I wonder how typical I am.  Why do artists of any media replicate what they see? If you do that, why? What keeps you interested?  Do you wish to be more or less representational?

Stone Enclosure with Canoe, 10 x 20" 

Stone Enclosure with Canoe, 10 x 20" 

Painting into the Image

A wonderful painter I know commented that my work allowed her to really be in the image. She made this comment during one of my workshops, after observing me working on an ongoing painting. I guess I was doing what I always do, dabbing, wiping, adjusting, letting it dry, getting it wet. Basically many minuscule changes. Seeing me work this way helped her to understand why the places and images drew her in so much. It is true that my images take a long time to emerge. Most times I reach despair that they will ever turn into something. But I have learned that if I keep going, it will appear.  It can take a long time and might be tedious for some people. I assume that most painters do something similar so I don't think I'm  special. I am trying to accept her comment as something worth considering. After all, my real goal with this work is to bring the viewer along with me as I connect to each location. It seems like I have succeeded, at least for the moment.

This photo shows the photo, watercolor sketch, and the in process painting that hasn't yet emerged.