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I don't 'get it' - Good!

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

I often remember as a very young child, one of my Mother's paintings on the wall in my bedroom (not this one above!). About the size of one of those large-ish illustrated fairy story books, I loved it, and would look at it so very often.

I didn't know what it was of, and actually, I didn't expect it to be 'of' anything. I didn't need that. I wasn't trying to 'get it'. I didn't even know that was a thing. I simply enjoyed its material presence for some unknown reason, the wild daubs of thick impasto oil paint dancing in colours across the canvas. It was a like some joyous soundless music.

I also remember being shocked that day the wild daubs of coloured paint suddenly swam into place and resolved themselves into cherry blossom trees and fairy lights around a harbour. It was like being told how a magic trick is done. Before it fixed itself, the magic this painting conjured was somehow so very interesting to me. I remember feeling sad that I 'got it', even though this moment was magical too. For now, I could see cherry trees, and their delicate pale pink cherry blossom floating in the spring air, tangling up with the swags of fairy lights, sparkling there for a moment, before they too fell onto the calm night water below. The few masts of sailing boats I can still only just make out.

I still dearly love this painting, it means so much to me, and when I look at it now, on the wall in my Mother's bedroom, I remember before my developing mind worked it out and made sense of it, when I simply enjoyed the magic of it being a swirling dance of colours and shapes - before it formed into the recognisable, known world.

I think appreciating my mother's painting was one of the first pivotal moments that opened my life into art - particularly into abstract or non-representational art, but still, I regularly practice my drawing skills by making sketches of something. And when working like this, there is a magic here also, but it is a different kind of magic, when those few minimal pencil lines resolve right before your eyes, into say, a crow turning over seaweed. This is, I am certain of it, magic. Recognisable form coming out of nothing.

But, there is this strong yearning in me to explore a drawing, a painting, a photograph, a film, a sculpture, that doesn't feel it has to depict anything entirely knowable, and instead delights in being itself without any obvious reason, not having to explain itself, at ease in its own soundless music, not showing off. I love the generous opening that gives, the luxurious expansive feeling in such an encounter, where you can inhabit these ineffable, intangible places or moments in a work - and in oneself.

A few people confide in me that they feel stupid when they look at minimal or abstract works because they don't 'get it' and they think they should, but 'thinking' doesn't have to be involved - there is so much more to us...

Ancient Chinese landscape painters knew the importance of honouring this ineffable space within landscape paintings - to allow space for the viewer: to enter into in the painting, and also, in their own self.

Our current culture is noisy and busy, demanding our reaction, our attention, but I notice, as are others, that we are collectively beginning to tune into quiet spaces again like those ancient Chinese sages, where we can set our minds free for a moment, whether it is in a forest, at the ocean's edge, in a meditation, ...or in a meditative painting.


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