#52 Abstract for Nobody

Painting #52: Abstract (Watercolor, Approx. A4 size)
#52: Abstract (Watercolour, Approx. A4 size)

This is nothing special, a watercolour abstract with overlapping shapes. I am glad I did this, I learned something. But I feel it did not quite succeed, which is OK. The thumbnail shows more depth and strength (below).


I have been reading Ted Orland’s View from the Studio Door – a really worthwhile read. Right after doing some reading over my morning coffee, I noted a comment to my last post from the ever insightful Margaret Parker Brown, in which she said “I struggle with my needing to depict an aesthetic (and socially) pleasing painting. I would rather paint from my gut and soul like what I have attempted with my Psalm 65 intuitive painting.”

If I understand the comment correctly, I can really identify with this struggle – the feeling that we are betraying our true quest in a way by trying to paint for an audience. I have often used Rilke’s response to a young poet as a touchstone to guide myself in this area.

To those of you who have not read the book (lots of free copies online), Rilke received a letter from a young poet, asking him advice and initially – I presume – complaining from the treatment he was getting from critics. Rilke replied:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself…

I am trying to keep this short, but in my opinion the paragraphs that Rilke writes after this are essential reading for any artist trying to get closer to her real self through her art.

But this is where Orland’s book also comes in. In a really insightful chapter, he writes about the need to have an audience in mind. He notes about the poet Ezra Pound – “when he abandoned his audience, his audience abandoned him”. He continues:

It may not matter in absolute terms whether you play to an audience of one, or an audience of everyone, but until your art reaches out and touches someone, it’s like the proverbial tree falling in an empty forest. Over the long run, art without audience is incomplete. The meaning of your art may be embedded in the artwork itself, but its purpose arises from its relationship with audience.

Another very insightful comment to my last post came from Aletha Kushan, who pointed in the same direction as Orland when she said: “I’ll play devil’s advocate for the egocentric, socially comparative personality in saying that sometimes the competitive motive is not only essential but wonderful. It can goad us into taking up challenges. Also we learn things from other artists.”

Well said. We are after all social creatures. I am a bit embarrassed to admit what a thrill I get when I receive a lot of likes or positive comments on a painting – not that this is necessarily correlated with how good a painting is (I have noted).

On a less philosophical note, some advice from Hawthorne:

If you look into the past of any successful painter your will find square miles of canvas behind him. It is work that counts, experience in seeing color. Painting is just getting one spot of color in relation to another spot of color – after you have covered acres of canvas you will know. Don’t be in a hurry to do something more – think how young you are. Suppose you spend ten years of your life just putting things together – think what an equipment you will have. Don’t try to be an artist all at once, be very much of a student. (from: Hawthorne on Painting).

That injured blackbird I wrote about in my last post is no longer there. I go quiet when I think of it. In South Africa, I once found a swallow with a broken wing in our garden. I could do nothing to save it, but I wrote this poem afterward:


It is true. I’ve seen it myself:
The colour of the eyes
of a swallow with a broken wing,
is light black slate gray terror.
Don’t look to deep!
You’re only imagining those eyes
are not portals to another universe.
If you stop dreaming this life
for even a split second you may be sucked right through.
Dissipated, reconstituted.
Emerging as a swirling vortex
somewhere in a teacup of sorts.
Singing. Screaming. All. Nothing.
It’s all the same – look around:
Thanks so much to all who have encouraged my journey with comments and likes, and a special thanks to all who follow my blog.

9 thoughts on “#52 Abstract for Nobody

  1. Well I like it. If I had painted the paintings you’ve painted, I’d be thinking, WOW! I did that! I made something beautiful. Go me! Sometimes you have to be proud of what you can achieve, and never mind the rest. Embrace your art, don’t worry about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks FR, that is very encouraging. I have to say most of the time I am pretty chuffed with my little creations, I guess when I blog about it I point to things that I would like to improve on. Maybe it seems I am never happy with my work! But thats not really the case. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In a way being unsatisfied with a painting is ultimately the inner knowledge that we are imperfection, incomplete and working towards meaning. I am always striving for a little sense of personal satisfaction, not necessarily perfection but a satisfaction that I have accomplished another step towards what I have no clue what I am trying to achieve! Talk about mind boggling! I really like Orland’s quote about audience and what came to mind is perhaps we need an audience to echo back our art and if it accomplishes anything at all. Sometimes I don’t have a clue how it fits or what it means until I hear it back from others. In a way we are reliant on our audience, keeping a healthy balance is integral and keeping that ego in check is so important.

    I find that your painting has more visual impact than your drawing….and your drawing is sensitive and perhaps leaning towards the visceral? I will be purchasing both those books probably tomorrow, if you have any more recommendations for more books, by all means point them my way. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I have ‘Art and Fear’, I need to re-read it….you are right, the Kindle versions are inexpensive and I think that is the way to go….thank you and also for the mention and linking up my blog to your post here. I forgot to mention that! I have my mind trudging along with this deep subject that I forgot some social graces. lol 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for including my comments in your meditations. I’m glad if I can say something useful. I incline more toward the Rilke letter to the young poet in believing that an artist needs to have — or to develop a standard that is internal. No one can tell how pictures ought to be painted. It might be nice if they could in that it would save everyone a lot of trouble, but of course there would be no forward development after that, no discovery — either personal or social. Similarly, though we can learn a great deal through study, no one can really tell us what a great work of art means from among the famous artists of the past. Such ideas would at best be second-hand experience. We need to look at art — and more significantly at life — and find our own way along — looking to others for advice and inspiration, yes, but at long last finding our own answers and living our own lives too.

    Similarly Hawthorne is right that you learn over, across and through a succession of things. When I first began I attached a lot of importance to each individual drawing, painting and whatnot. (And therein lies a pretty reliable source of frustration …) And it took the making of lots of them to lose that over attention to the one thing and ironically to learn at the same time to make more of each one thing. I don’t sweat over drawings and paintings now. Sometimes I hardly care how they turn out, and yet on the whole they turn out better because of my not caring. I am more inclined to work through ideas steadily — being fixed on certain ideas which I am determined to go after again and again until I get them right. Even a very emotional artist (perhaps I’m more naturally detached in certain ways) can learn to spread the emotional search across various iterations, to seek the emotion in the transit through images. Even still, sometimes in looking back you find that qualities were in a work — hidden in its “mistakes” as it were — that you never saw at the time of its making. There’s some learning always going on, backwards and forwards.

    When Hawthorne says “think how young you are,” that can perhaps be discouraging to an older person pursuing art, but the length of time that it takes to master certain skills is not equal to a lifetime. Van Gogh’s whole art career spanned about 10 years total and he was a very great artist. The essential thing is persistence. Whatever you do, you must stick to it long enough to master its particular core elements. No artist does everything, so no one is ever learning everything. The persistence relates to what Emerson calls that “little acre of ground that is mine to till.” (In his essay “Self Reliance.”)

    And you don’t even have to know what your little acre is — to a certain extent you can proceed blindly and still be persistent and diligent and focused. It’s all a bit of a mystery, but persistence is the key thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aletha for yet another really insightful comment. This could (again) form a very interesting blog post on its own! I especially like your statement “Even a very emotional artist (perhaps I’m more naturally detached in certain ways) can learn to spread the emotional search across various iterations, to seek the emotion in the transit through images. ”
      PS: I made the correction you pointed out in your comment and removed your second comment, I hope you are OK with that

      Liked by 1 person

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