July 11, 2003

Artfully Opening the Lines of Communication

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:53 pm

While waiting for our appointment in the lobby of American Express in Walnut Creek, my husband and I came up with a game to occupy the minds of two over-educated MFAs. We were sitting across from a soft pastel abstract of mostly hazy images sharing the canvas with a recognizable though free-floating bridge and some discernable foliage.

Matt broke the silence with a tongue-in-cheek, “When I look at that painting, I see a dream world that eludes the grasp of man.”

After a guffaw, I took a moment to look at the painting and came up with a little b.s. of my own.

“With the soft strokes in the sky and the bolder images on the ground, the artist is trying to say that the more specific our goals, the more grounded in reality they are.”

Without missing a beat, Matt said, “The bridge represents transitions between phases of our lives.”

Gesturing broadly over the painting I queried, “Isn’t it interesting how distant memories from our childhood are more clear than our recollections of what happened yesterday?”

“That was a good one,” Matt grinned.

Although it started as a farce to pass the time, our little exercise ended up luring us into a serious conversation about the painting. And as we worked to connect with the art, we entered into a dialogue with the artist, which is what art is all about in the first place.

We have found that this game is a very portable pastime that can be used just about anywhere by people ages one and up (based on some informal market research with our son as the only sample from the tot set). When my son was about one, I found that a cure for the wiggles when we had to wait in line somewhere or were held up someplace was to distract him by talking about art. So many places have art on the walls that is easy to overlook until one desperately needs to distract and engage a curious young mind. It has turned out to be a very effective and rewarding parenting technique. Back then, he would simply point out the artist’s use of representational objects, making sure that I understood that there was a fish, water and a tree on the canvas. I would then supply a narrative as to what I interpreted the fish, water and tree to be doing in the painting.

Now that Tyrian is two and a half, he has definite opinions about what he is looking at and no longer accepts my narrative. He will first tell me the fish is purple, the water is blue and the tree is green. Trees to him in paintings are always big trees, whether or not their scale in the painting is actually large compared to the other objects. I figure when he’s older, he’ll give me a lecture on how a tree empirically represents largeness, the vastness of the universe, the boundless dreams of mankind, the unending triumph of the human spirit, the power and majesty of Mother Nature — that sort of thing.

After establishing that he and I interpret the objects the same way, he will say the fish is swimming in the water, and that there is a big tree. On some days, the fish eats the tree. On other days, the fish isn’t swimming at all, but rather sleeping. Oh, and the water is wet. And every now and again, a painting will get some highly critical praise as he declares it “pretty.”

What do you know? Our waiting is over. The Toddler Lapsit at the Orinda Library is starting, or the doctor is ready to see us or we’ve reached the front of the line at Starbucks.

It works with adults for awkward silences at parties or in restaurants when the service is slow. Just try saying, “Wow, that is a yellow painting,” or “I wonder why the artist chose to immortalize that particular fruit stand,” and see how your friends and acquaintances take the bait and run with it. You’ll find you gain instant insight into their souls and a glimpse of their life experiences through their interpretations. Plus, it often just makes for a good conversation starter for someone to lead into a story that may or may not be related to the painting, but certainly was recalled due to its influence.
The best part about this game is that there are no rules, no one is ever wrong, and no one loses. All critiques and observations are valid. We can’t say that about many other things in this world.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML ( You can use these tags): <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> .