I’m finding it harder and harder to put images and words together, coming to see them as being mutually exclusive. Will this take on things last? It’s hard to say, but right now, I’m being led to the conclusion that combining words with images is taking the easy way out, or maybe the easy way in—to our audience’s minds. Giving them all they need to know with a title and a caption is like writing The Fall of Freddie the Leaf instead of the poem by Giacomo Leopardi. We do it to ensure that our audience will understand our intentions, but art should not be about communicating our intentions. Art should be about art, remember?
This is a big step for me. Ten years ago, when I first started posting images on Flickr, I tried to come up with clever titles, including puns and obscure references. I saw it a bit as a game and did not want to give too much away. Then for a year, it was all about matching photos to the words of poems. It was not until a few months ago that I finally broke through my own barrier and named a few images with just a number or initials or both. I have not been consistent with it, because even now, I want to come up with something clever or something that hints at what I’m thinking when I look at the image. It’s even worse with my mixed media paintings. I don’t trust them or myself enough to not give them names that might somehow justify their existence, as if to say: I know this is crazy and convoluted and you might not consider it art, but if you just knew what I was thinking as I was working or when I looked at the finished piece, you’d cut me some slack.
Integral to my getting to this point, of recognizing the disservice we do when we try to influence an audience’s take on a work of art by attaching words to it have been the photos I’ve seen on Instagram. I’ve written before about how everyone on social media seems to want to explain, explain, explain. Is it because we’ve become terrified of mystery? Is it because we think that being misunderstood or misrepresented is the worst possible thing that could happen to us? For me, that was the case for most of my life. In some areas, clear communication is vital, but in many others, explaining too much can interfere with purpose.
I keep coming back to Flannery O’Connor, and I keep asking myself if her writing is as good as I’d like it to be. Without the background of her biography and her thoughts on how to write, her stories leave me confused and disengaged. So I have to ask, if the work cannot stand on it’s own, how good can it be? On the other hand, I know that art and literature need time, so it could be that Flannery’s writing just needs more time to work on me.
These questions are good, and I’d rather have them to play with than answers that quickly become more clutter. But my mind is cluttered, and as with my house, I need to be careful about what I bring into it. Last night, I read an article on the Catholic Church and sacred art that prescribed ideas for bringing more art into churches, but I can’t go there. It is a mire I do not want to get sucked into. I don’t know enough, and whenever I wade into those waters, I find myself agreeing, then disagreeing. A couple of years ago, I read God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art by Daniel Siedell. While I learned a lot and found the book fascinating overall, I put it away after reading the last page and have not turned back to it since. Just this morning, I was reading about artist Georges Rouault, who was Catholic, and who, when asked about religious or sacred art, replied that to talk about art in the Church, one must first of all love painting. I like that answer, because it makes me realize that I don’t yet love painting, not enough anyway.