Thursday, April 7, 2011
marks and symbols
Recently, thinking about the desire that my work reflect my Colorado Plateau surroundings, I wondered if petroglyph and pictograph art might provide the key to a language of my own. I pulled out our books on the topic, and enthusiastically began marking paintings with Anasazi designs. Many of these are abstract symbols of the natural world -- sun, moon, earth -- that I thought might blend well with my work. The example at left, from Jim Beard's website Anasazis.com, gives the flavor of such designs. After a few experiments, however, I decided that they don't work. Or, rather, the designs do, but I am not comfortable with superficially pulling meaningful marks from a culture that is not my own. Even though I intend no harm, and even try to honor the designs, it seems almost offensive to me, to simply lift whole images into my work. Also, it feels as I imagine it would feel to copy Chinese characters onto my paintings: I don't understand fully their meaning, and they are not my voice.
So, my quest continues. Georgia O'Keeffe famously quoted Arthur Wesley Dow's admonition to "fill space in a beautiful way" as she painted, and it is also one of my maxims. This requires, however, a spiritual and/or philosophical integrity that goes beyond just the aesthetics of the painting, and I learned something about myself in my brief winter experiment with Native American symbolism. Back to the hard bench: I have to develop my own marks, not borrow someone else's, no matter how powerful and beautiful they may be.