Is the truth ever too much?

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A while ago I was exhibiting several paintings in a combined artists’ exhibition. At exhibitions, I have found when viewers don’t know whose work it is, they will often chat more freely than if they knew the artist was listening. I like to hear ‘real’ comments, not the ones people think I want to hear. I especially like hearing what they think things are.

I paint abstractly; my paintings are painted intuitively from the heart. My works often allow the viewer to make meaning from the work more than any intended meaning I put forward; this is not always the case, but it often is. If people want to know the story behind the work I am usually happy to share it – but I like to think allowing and encouraging the viewer’s interpretation enables identification with the work on an emotional and deeper sensory level, beyond the purely visual pleasure. It also encourages creative processing within the viewer.

All that aside, I really enjoy listening to people’s comments about my artworks – comments that are especially insightful when uncluttered by any expectations on the part of the artist or viewer.

So my intention is to share meaning when asked and to listen to interpretations and let people decide what they want to do. I guess I am a bit laissez-faire when it comes to making painting sales, as I love each work as each holds a meaning that points directly to my heart.

My husband says I should not share or interpret a work when people ask me about the meaning. I disagree. I process emotions through my work. Emotions are not always sunshine and roses. Nor is life. Getting to a 'sunshine and roses' place is one of the reasons I paint!

Sometimes people like knowing what a painting ‘means’ – especially if they would like to purchase it. Sometimes people buy the work and say things like, “Oh yes I see what you mean, and that’s just what I like in the work…” Sometimes they don't know, or even agree with me about the ‘meaning’ – and they still purchase the painting anyway.

Those are sweet moments – a connection between artist and viewer. A moment of appreciation.

But sometimes the intention goes the other way.

Once, we had a potential art buyer visit our home. He stopped in front of a favourite work of mine – which looks at the relationship between people and power, and is aptly named ‘Paua to the People’. I had painted it in response to a situation I was processing.

The potential customer stopped in front of the work and said, “Oh - yes - I like this one. Tell me about it.” As if he sensed how this would turn out, my husband did some spectacular eye-rolling and made shushing movements to me, followed by hand-waving across the neck and even the face grimace that accompanies that move – and then disappeared into the kitchen to make coffee.

I happily explained what the image represented to me and why I had painted it – how this was an emotional response to the way I was feeling about a situation and how, at the time, I was feeling powerless, and how this painting represented those experiences and feelings at that moment and was my way to overcome and process them.

On (and on) I went with my explanation… dah de dah de dah de dah… And then came the response from the potential buyer:  “OOOHH I don’t like it anymore – it reminds me of my ex-wife”. Needless to say, over coffee my husband had that look that silently says ‘I told you so’ written all over his face.

Against my intention related to my artworks, personally I think the potential buyer should have bought the work and used it to process any lingering ‘ex wife' issues. Healing comes from within and art can have the power to hold a mirror and show us who we are. But that potential buyer was not interested in that conversation, so we parted ways after coffee and the painting still hangs in the hallway of our home.

Can you think of times when your intentions have not gone according to plan? 

Do you like to know the intended meaning of an artwork or do you prefer to create your own?

Gina HainesComment