For the past two days mist, fog, and occasionally, rain, has dampened my parched world. Last night, as my significant, Wug, and I were driving back from the Indianapolis Museum of Art to our downtown abode, we observed the city skyline shrouded in mist. Nearly invisible now, we both knew what they skyline normally looked like. Tall skinny buildings with blinking lights, glued shoulder-to-shoulder with their shorter, broad-chested brothers, sparkling lights beckoning us home after sunset. But last night, a veil of heavy mist left only faint, glowing smudges to lead us back where we belonged. Same city, different view.
This morning, I received an email from artist Robert Genn, who sends out a lovely email twice a week to inspire painters. His words of insight and encouragement mean something to me. Today’s message resonated with me, and perhaps it will with you, too. Here it is:
Recently, watercolorist Roderik Mayne of Toronto, Ontario wrote, “What do you mean when you talk about putting mystery in your work?”
Thanks, Roderik. I’m walking along a strange forest path. Others are with me–some fall back and some join later. We hear animals in the forest but cannot see them. We come upon surprises of incredible beauty that we can’t explain. Some are quite in focus and others are not. Always something is just ahead that we canâ€™t quite get to. As we move forward, whatever it is moves forward also but we never can fully touch it.
If you’re still with me and you don’t think I’m losing it, and if you catch my drift, describing aspects of life is part of the artist’s job. Let me explain:
The path is also the road, stream, river, etc. Few of us have a straight one that leads directly to a big something. More in tune with the human experience is the curving, bumping-up-and-down path that disappears around a corner, over a hill or into a valley. This path winds and beguiles and serves a deep human need. It takes you some distance into the enigma.
The incompletely disclosed subject can be anything: a barn, a lake, a sunset, a splodge of paint, a boy, a girl. The subject need not be fully described, delineated or even fully understood. A hidden barn, a shrouded lake, an obscured sunset, an over-painted splodge, an escaping boy, a shy girl seen only in profile or from behind–all of these tease and caress you further into the enigma.
As you move forward along the path, toward the mysterious something up ahead, the elusive subject might be for a time in focus and the surrounding area not so. This is the nature of concentration–one thing at a time. It may seem unfortunate to some, and worth remedying, but in truth we cannot fully see the whole enigma. This condition, the “specific focus phenomenon,” shows the nature of both human sight and human aspiration. The rest is blurred, fleeting, disappearing. “Suddenly,” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “as rare things will, it vanished.”
PS: “What I’m trying to translate to you is more mysterious; it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the implacable source of sensations.” (Paul Cezanne) “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” (Francis Bacon) “A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.” (Edgar Degas) “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” (Albert Einstein)
Esoterica: You may call them devices, and in some ways they are. But they are the very bones of your paintings, sculptures, even your quilts. Similar to the plot in a story, the theme in a poem, the continuity in a movie, you need them and they need you. FYI, we’ve put a selection of Roderik Mayne’s paintings at the top of the current clickback.
Thanks, Robert, for being a source of inspiration. And for cluing me on why art isn’t always straightforward. Why artists choose NOT make everything obvious at the outset. Why an apple doesn’t have to always look like an apple. It allows us the taste of something different, deeper, more meaningful. And it keeps us coming back to look one more time. Same object, different view.