Getting to Know You

Jill and I have a painting in our dining room that we don’t like as much as we did, once.

That’s because we met the artist.

We were on a trip to Taos when we learned the painter was appearing at a local gallery, so we hurried to meet the person whose painting we loved.

Big mistake.

He remembered the painting, but couldn’t come up with any reason why he painted it, what he was feeling or what he wanted us to feel. He didn’t have any particular insights into the works he was displaying at the Taos gallery, either. He just painted them, with seemingly no emotion or vision or excitement or awareness.

I’ve been thinking lately about that painting, along with Tiger Woods and other fallen idols, and about the risk of getting to know the person behind the art. In the world of celebrities, the public image we experience becomes the whole picture for us. Because it’s all we see, it’s all we think about.

Before his midnight ride, how much time did we spend wondering about Tiger Woods’s fidelity? Before his arrest, how much did we wonder if Mel Gibson loved Jews? Before he started panhandling with a sign that says, “Will Impersonate Elvis for Food,” did you ever wonder if Rod Blagoyevich…never mind.

The funny thing here is that we still don’t have a clue regarding these people. If we focused on only one dimension before, we tend to focus on only two dimensions later. Or perhaps we still focus on only one dimension, but a different one that when we began.

It’s our failing, not theirs, that we assume we know people on the basis of their public image. It’s also a waste of our time to feel somehow affected by their falls from grace.

I still like the painting in the dining room. If I had the time and interest to get to know the artist more intimately, I’m sure I’d find him fascinating. Until then, I’ll have to accept the fact that I’m only seeing part of the picture.

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3 Responses to Getting to Know You

  1. betsy says:

    michael, i really enjoy reading your blog comments, and am so impressed with all the publishing know how that you’ve learned and put into practice as you’ve gone on this great journey of yours. Here’s to a great 2010!

  2. David Brimm says:

    Very nicely done. Lucid and funny. I don’t remember the painting in your living room, so it can’t be THAT great. However, the next time I am in Taos, I will sneer at the artist on your behalf and ask him where he is keeping the “good stuff” on velvet.

  3. Larry Clark says:

    Michael — This is one of those two-sided issues.

    One one hand, the artist owes the viewer nothing more than the art itself. No explanation, no rationale, no insight.

    On the other, there is a body of thought behind art. The artist understands that or doesn’t (and can still choose to reveal/share it or not).

    If you want a really good read about art and an artist, read Lawrence Weschler’s book “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees”. The book is about artist Robert Irwin and was originally published in 1982. An updated edition was published in 2008 (available from Amazon) which I just purchased. The original edition was the most revealing book about artistic vision and processes that I have ever encountered.


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