Barn Interior Acrylic ©Ruth Armitage

“Barn Interior” 8″x8″ Acrylic on Paper $95 ©Ruth Armitage

My Art Means….

Talking about what art means can be a slippery business. Each work of art has two lives: a public life and a private life. When an artist puts the work out for public viewing, whether online or in person, the work automatically gains the meanings that viewers receive from it.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing a blog is that it allows me to share some of the private meanings that I put into the artwork. I think viewers appreciate having the behind the scenes view into what the art means. I even noticed this in my recent workshop with Skip Lawrence. During the critique discussion of one of my paintings, he discovered that elements of the painting were inspired by specific memories, and admitted that this knowledge made him appreciate the work more.

Often one can discover clues to the artist’s intent by looking at the title of a specific work. For example, the rather dark painting at right, “Barn Interior” might make more sense when seen with its title. Perhaps the title might help you imagine soft, warm lighting with mystery, dust motes, straw, gaps in the siding and all the rest of the smells and sounds of an old barn. (I hope so!)

Fog ©Ruth Armitage

“Fog” ©Ruth Armitage, 8″x8″ Acrylic on Paper

Fog, another painting I worked on in Santa Barbara has a very different, specific feeling. The colors are very close in intensity… all fairly muted. How does this fit the subject (Fog?)

One pitfall that viewers can often encounter when viewing abstract art is the “Rorschach Test” phenomenon. I HATE it when viewers feel obligated to find realistic images in an abstraction. I would much rather have a viewer tell me what they feel. Here are some actual comments that I received from viewers about the painting below, titled “Heat.”

  •      “Moody & Broody”
  •      “Very Expressive”
  •      “This is Moving to me”
  •      “Love This”
  •      “Brings to Mind the Fires we get in Southern CA”
  •      “Reminds me of a raft trip through a burning forest”
  •      “Sailboat”

Which of the comments do you think I was excited to hear? Which one stands out as not applicable? “Discovering” an object within the painting that does not relate to the title is not the best way to appreciate the work. If one does see subject matter in an abstract painting, best to keep it to oneself.

Heat ©Ruth Armitage

“Heat” ©Ruth Armitage 10″x15″ Acrylic on Paper, $135

I don’t mean to imply that an abstract work is not successful if the viewer does not understand the artist’s intent. On the contrary, I feel that the meaning of a painting can be one thing to the artist, and something different to the viewer. Although I had a specific memory in mind that inspired the painting “Heat,” I purposely chose a more general title.

Instead of calling it “Campfire” “Forest Fire” or “Fireside” I simply chose the title “Heat” to allow viewers to bring their own experience of fire to the interpretation of the painting. It could also imply emotional heat, both positive and negative. Leaving the title fairly general allowed viewers to imagine all sorts of content of their own.

What kind of interpretations do you make from the three paintings in this post? How important are titles to you in viewing abstract artwork? I love receiving your comments!

Join me this weekend for the opening reception of the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s 50th Anniversary. I will be in attendance as the public and artists view 80 paintings, selected from artists throughout the state by Michigan artist Kathleen Conover. The show runs April 9th through May 23rd, 2016 at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, Oregon.

My painting, below, was inspired by a meadow of spring wildflowers called Camassia. They are a brilliant blue, and often cluster in oak Savannah’s. This particular field is part of Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem, Oregon. Let me know what you think!

"Camassia" ©Ruth Armitage 2015, Mixed Watermedia 11"x15"

“Camassia” ©Ruth Armitage 2015, Mixed Watermedia 11″x15″

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