Every man’s work…is always a portrait of himself. (Samuel Butler)
Same goes for women. (LP)
I have come to believe that an artist can’t accurately see their own work within the time frame they are doing it. The work can be exactly what they had intended (tho this is very rare!) and they can make fantastic improvements as they move though the process of the piece, but I wonder, can the artist see the intrinsic gist or essence of the work during the time it is produced?
I suppose I can only speak for myself personally on this. I look back at work I did when I was in my early twenties and I see that I was sad. It’s as clear as if it was written across the canvas. I didn’t know then that I was sad, nor did my work speak to me that way, at that time. It’s just in looking back years later that it becomes clear. Maybe because I am fairly content these days I can see the discontent from years ago.
Similarly, during the time I painted my animal poster series, I did not see the paintings as I do now. I was focused on details and accuracy and didn’t realize how strong the colors and simplicity were. Only years later did that become clear to me.
Knowing this, I wonder what my work is saying beyond my conscious awareness.
This piece above is, as Samuel Butler asserts, a self portrait, though it is not a painting of me. Like so many others, I love the ocean. I don’t really know why. I love swimming in it, looking at it, painting it. It is part of me somehow. The idea of this painting has been brewing for a few years and happily for me, my child Anna posed for the piece. The painting means something to me, though I’m not sure exactly what.
Art schools, critics, patrons and grant bestowers need to hear that you do know exactly what your art means. An artist is often required to articulate in words so others can derive meaning from it in a way that makes them comfortable. The work is derived in the heart, goes to the brain for an explanation in order for another to process a watered down and inevitably altered idea of the piece with their brain. Maybe it allows them to then see the piece better. Maybe not.
A friend once said that an artist analyzing their own work is like a bird discussing ornithology. I love that comparison.
Hopefully this mirroring of self in art is somehow of use to others, weather it is explained in words or not. I suppose that is why we do art, to communicate what we think and feel and see on a level that taps into a bit of the unknown or unspoken.