The word Nefelibata has drawn my attention recently. The word originates in Portugese, derived from ‘nephele’ (cloud) and ‘batha’ (a place to walk.) It refers to one who lives in their own imagination or dreams, or one who does not abide by the precepts of society, literature or art; an unconventional, unorthodox person.

 

One of the things I often repeat in my workshops is that I’m ‘not encumbered by reality.’ I am inspired by reality, but I don’t feel obligated to try to reproduce it. In fact, when I come too close to reality in my artwork, I’m often unsatisfied. I feel that the interpretation of that reality is more interesting than accuracy. I’m drawn to work that ‘riffs’ on reality. It is the individual’s response to reality that I find interesting in art, writing and music.

In looking for a painting to embody this concept, I chose one that recently returned from the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery. I found I’d never posted it on my site before! I often send pieces out into the world before I have a chance to promote them… and this piece is one of those. I’ve always loved the activity and detail of this piece. The texture and line work are so evocative of memories of ‘major’ (in my memory) thunderstorms.

Summer Storm, ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper, 22"x30" $1950

Summer Storm, ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper, 22″x30″ $1950

Thinking about Meaning in Art

This spring I was privileged to receive a critique of my work from an artist I respect. The artist giving the critique works in a realistic manner. One word they used to describe my abstract work was ‘facile.’ This has been bothering me for a while now… and I think I’m almost over it.

One reason it bothered me, is that I don’t find abstraction easy to do. Not at all! I think abstraction is more difficult than realism. I also feel that these particular paintings embody (for me) more personal meaning than many of my more realistic paintings.

Another reason this comment disturbed me might be more subconscious. With abstraction, I feel that I’ve found a way of working that feels natural. Not easy, mind you, but natural – suited to my skills, my aesthetics and my content. Maybe this is why the critiquing artist thought the work looks ‘facile.’

The definition of facile:

(especially of a theory or argument) appearing neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue; superficial, simplistic, oversimplified.
I feel there is a fine line between capitalizing on our strengths and challenging ourselves to fit others’ expectations. However, I do want my work to suggest a mystery, a deeper meaning and a personal response to the world. I don’t want it to appear simplistic or superficial.
What are your thoughts? Do you find abstraction (particularly mine) to be less meaningful than realism? Don’t worry about hurting my feelings! I can take it… Thanks for joining the discussion.
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