How to talk about art

My college roommate and friend Diana and I made ruthless fun of the pretentious guy for months after my art opening.

“Oh Alli,” she’d say in her Swiss accent, “I love your work because I can see the darkness in your paintings.”

“Like what darkness?!” I’d retort to Diana, like she was actually that guy. “You mean, between the clouds? Or, like, behind the canvas?!”

Winter 08

The darkness!

Like any good college-age humans, our bullshit detector was high and not terribly generous. The poor guy was just grasping for some kind of words to use in relation to the paintings he saw on the wall – and probably trying to impress us. And he did, in a way.

Now I also struggle to talk about my paintings. I mostly don’t want to; I just want them to speak for themselves. But, there’s a need for me to talk about them, like there’s a need for words to be put to anything that you really want out there in the world. 

Talking about art is a form of making the implicit explicit. It turns out that’s a whole life skill. What’s right in front of me is obvious, right? Just as obvious as what’s in front of you. Except it turns out we both have different brains and perspectives, and surprisingly different thoughts kicking around up there. If we don’t say the thing – if we don’t somehow communicate in a shared language what it is we’re experiencing – we’ll just make assumptions about the other. And you know how well that works out. About as well as having a baby to fix the relationship.

So I get to sharing; I get to talking. I talk and show and share so that others can do the same. I do this in art; I’m learning to do this in other realms of my life as well, especially in consulting/facilitation. I try to share myself and my perspective in a way that allows for others’ experiences to stand true as well; including their experience of my paintings (the darkness!). It’s an example of the fascinating art of connection: here is my experience in the world, in a way that is not exclusive of but actually creates room for your experience of the world, and we can meet in the middle and compare notes.

It is scary and exciting to continually put myself out there, but I find the places and people it leads me to are thrilling like nothing else. It’s all about the unknown. And I’m often surprised and delighted by what people have to say and observe.

Unlike my college self, I completely understand that it’s hard to talk about art. Still, I keep trying.


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