We’ve all heard the adage that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. True, indeed, but may I add that our beholder’s mind may also play a part here? Maybe it’s not always what we see, but what we think we see. Or maybe it’s just our overall state of mind that determines — at least to a degree — how we respond to a work of art.
Yesterday, I wrote about focal points and shared my experience of posting a painting — one which I loved dearly — to a Facebook group only to have it found lacking by another member. Where, she asked, was my focal point or center of interest?
For today’s post, I want to share another painting, this one a watercolor I did. You may have seen this before. In May, 2016, I posted it here — along with a few others — in Heaven’s Above , showing storm clouds I had photographed and painted.
I was surprised to realize that I had also posted this watercolor in the Painted Sky group on Facebook. I did a double-take when I saw that the first comment this painting garnered came from the same member who had questioned the focal point of my recent painting. And then, I had to laugh a bit when I read her comment:
“Nicely done and not overworked,” she wrote.
I’m sure those words made me feel good, especially since watercolor is not a medium I use often. She made no mention of focal points, a center of interest, or any lack thereof.
When I look at these two paintings together, I see a lot of similarities as far as the essential structure or idea is concerned.
They are paintings of the sky and nothing more. One has storm clouds, it’s true, and maybe those storm clouds formed a center of interest for the woman who commented.
Or — could it be — that she was simply in another state of mind?
Art, of course, is highly subjective, and more and more I wonder how much of our response to any drawing or painting comes from our thoughts rather than our vision. I see a huge difference, of course, when I look back at my earlier drawings and paintings. Sometimes I laugh a bit at something I once thought looked good, but which now seems childish and simple. On other occasions I look back at something I considered awful, but realize it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought.
When we view a work of art, emotions come into play, and our response will be dependent upon the mood we’re in at that particular moment. While we may believe that thoughts and emotions are separate from one another, they’re closely connected. Psychologists tell us that thought precedes emotion, in fact. The illustration of this principle I best remember involves seeing a bear approach.
A young child would probably not be fearful because they haven’t learned that bears pose danger.
It’s only when we think “Oh, my goodness! There’s a bear coming at me!” that our heart begins to pound and the fight or flight response kicks into gear.
Or maybe it’s not a bear. Maybe it’s a puppy on our pathway. Most of us would probably smile. Maybe we would kneel down and make “come to me” sounds, reaching out to pet the adorable little creature.
But someone who’s had a bad experience with dogs in the past — a nasty bite, for example — would probably feel different emotions and would have a much different reaction.
It’s not always what we perceive. It’s all about what we think about our perceptions.
Our brains and our emotions can get so tangled up together that we can respond differently to the same stimulus on different days. One morning your toddler begs for ice cream, and you happily dish it out; the next morning you’re in a different mood. Instead of dishing out ice cream, you start in on a lecture about too much sugar — or whatever other thoughts are going through your brain.
So, in the end, a focal point or center of interest may catch your viewer’s eye, but that doesn’t mean your painting will keep it, or that the viewer will like what they see. A viewer’s reaction and response will always be beyond our control. That, I think, is the true beauty of all art.