On Meaning

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“You know, it’s very hard to maintain a theory in the face of life that comes crashing about you.” -Alice Neel

I have begun a series of mixed-media paintings on prepared paper.  They will cover a multitude of ideas, but will be fairly represented by the above image, the second in the series, which bears the title,”Oof!”

As a reader as well as an artist, I am strongly drawn to narrative.  As an artist, I nervously skirted about the edges of this tendency for some time, as it, combined with my love of drawing, tended to brand me in the jargon of my art student days as an “illustrator.” Or, more pejoratively, as “JUST an illustrator.”  I have finally, though still with trepidation, decided to embrace that tendency, and to regard worry about the label “illustrator” as meaningless and counterproductive. For me, art is about meaning.  Meaning is, I acknowledge, embodied in form, but for me, it also requires narrative.

This series of paintings is narrative in nature, and will center around the passage of time, the awareness of the brevity of our individual existence, and the contemplation of our place in the void.  We exist for a short time, we struggle with limited means to grasp the enormity of existence and the brevity of our own slice of it and our place in the continuum of time and space and culture and thought. We struggle to assign meanings to what we are able to sort out.  We attempt to find order in what seems chaos, to grasp moments of joy amid our fear and pain. These paintings are my attempts to assign those meanings.  They should be read, not as scholarly tracts that attempt to be factual, but as metaphorical narratives that attempt to come to grips with ideas that are, ultimately, ineffable.

“Time Traveler”

“People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree.”  -Pablo Picasso

The problem with attempting to write about the meaning of a painting is that painting IS its own meaning; the meaning is imbedded in the forms and processes of the painting, and cannot help but suffer loss in the translation into mere words.  In the same way, a visual illustration may enhance a story, and may exist independently as another expression of a part of that story, but cannot replace the story itself as the first and best expression of the idea, providing that the story itself is well told.  Similarly, reading the text of an aria from Handel’s “Messiah” cannot substitute for the experience of hearing it sung, but knowing the text can enhance that experience.  A painting should be approached as an integrated statement, the parts of which are inseparable. As with all metaphor, visual metaphors are evocative rather than explicit, and require some effort from the viewer to wrest forth their meaning.

Related drawings:


“Time-tied, Two-timing, Time Traveler, Twice”

“She Dances”

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