No, I’m not talking about composition, as you might have suspected. It’s not the overall design, it is more subtle than that.
When I look at a painting, I like to get up close. You know, the point where the museum guards get a little nervous. No worry, I wouldn’t touch it, I want to see the individual brushstrokes that make up the objects in the painting. I want to see how the artist blended the paint pigments together. Was the canvas dry when they painted, or was it still wet when they moved the brush over the paint below?
These studies of brushstrokes are my school of really learning art. A lot of times I can feel the individuals as they applied the paint. I can even feel their mood that day. Some might say that would be impossible, no one can do that. But I say that each stroke is given as a record of the artist at that moment and they painted from the inside out, and their feelings are there much the same as an audio recording or a visual movie. You just need to be able to interpret their messages of feelings. One can also tell when the painter got impatient or even if they were hurting that day. The brushstrokes change and the tempo of the painting changes.
I learned art and did many different types of art so I could better understand the artists behind the art. The paintings are a special segment of their lives. They were recording what they saw and felt during the time they were painting. In a painting is them at that time, the seen and the unseen. The images don’t tell the whole story but examining the brushstrokes leads you into where they were, inside and outside, how they felt and what they were experiencing in their lives at that time.
Maybe it was the minor I had in psychology that led me down this road of interpreting the artist by how they painted and seeing a painting as a road map of their changing feelings and attitudes. Each painting is a continuous record of subtle changes as they started right on to the final brushstrokes. Maybe it is because I go into a meditative state when I study a painting. Maybe the artist’s spirit reaches out from a painting and touches me. Maybe I am a little off center from the normal person. Maybe all of these are what I am and am not. I don’t know the answers. I only know what I feel when I am in the presence of another artist even though not in person but in and from their work.
Things are revealed to you when you become ready to receive and understand them. It’s very much like removing a curtain between you and them and you stand together in the realm of time and place. When in college, I had an English teacher who was trying to help me see this realm of understanding. He kept on saying that there is a lot more to life than the obvious realm where we live most of the time. This teacher was also an artist and writer of deep poems. I walked by the office of the head of the history department and the door was open and I saw he was reading this English teacher’s latest book of poems. I stopped in to say hi and he looked up at me and regarding the page he was reading said, “I could teach an entire semester about this poem and know that I had just scratched the surface of it.” The English professor was Dr. Woodridge Spears. He led me into paintings and poems like no other person could have.
Some may think this is a conflict in one’s religious Biblical beliefs, but in truth, it compliments it. If you really believe in angels and demons, you realize that the Earth is more than we know and revelations come when we are ready to receive them, but not until we are ready.
I paint and my paintings continuously teach me about myself and all that I have in common with others. This is why I examine the brushstrokes. They tell me a lot about the artist and where they were when they painted their pictures.
Harry Croghan is an artist, photographer, writer and teacher. He can be reached at (740) 852-4906 or by e-mail at email@example.com.