Art Talk


from a talk given on 5 February 2011

Art, as in painting, is another language.  And language, in a sense, is “transferring,” or translation. I recall my dad’s response to a woman’s impatience at his hesitation when talking about one of his paintings, “I would not have painted it if I could just as easily have spoken about it.”  It is this language that I am beginning to use, and my attempt to provide a material trace of narratives that have been interpreted, heard and transferred from many generations, that painting becomes storytelling.

What is language but just another interpretation, an act of transferring, “From my lips to your ears”?

It could very well be, “from my stomach to your breast,” when a baby indicates hunger to his mother.

We have many ways of communicating and visual imagery has its way of relaying a message just when the early cave dwellers drew pictures of buffalo on the cave walls, stating when the season of hunting is to be expected. “From my hands to your eyes,” to your mind… and so on.

All of us have the ability to create visual imagery.  In the stages of reading, teachers are well aware of the “Grade 4 or 5 cliff.”  Alarm bells ring if a child is unable to read at that age.

I have also observed that it is at that age when most of us, especially those who use this alphabet, stop drawing. At this stage, we usually have started acquiring an abstract sense of our world, identifying symbols as letters, attaching sounds to letters, and as the letters are compounded, we attach meaning to words. But there are times, when words lose their meaning.  This is usually illustrated in the way we use ritual words, or words of courtesy, such as, “please,” “thank you,” “good morning,” or “have a nice day.”

Our society attaches a lot of importance to those who practice the use of these words and we remark, “What a courteous young man! What a nice young lady!”

The age of texting added another complexity with the way we use words, but also an understanding of how well we have abstracted our thinking, where letters can be skipped and a meaning is derived… or perceived differently.

In the 1930s, a Southern politician successfully defeated a worthy opponent by spreading gossip that his opponent’s sister was a thespian and that his opponent practiced pre-marital inter-digitation.

In a way, this is the way we also hear stories.  When we were young, listening to a story being read or told to us, especially when the stories have become dear to us and a word goes out of place, we will say, “No.  That’s not how it goes.” But we don’t mind skipping over the difficult parts.  We make shortcuts, just like Disney would present the gory tales of Grimm into sweet, beautiful “G” rated movies and everyone lives happily ever after. Just as long as we say our “thank you” and “please,” we’ll be okay.

In a way, that is how most Christians read the Bible that is supposed to be the source of stories about faith.  We go immediately to the good parts, and gloss over the difficult parts and we read into it from a perspective of where we are.

A literal, factual approach to the Bible leads to a selective, absolute interpretation so while there are Christians who have no problem wearing clothes made from mix-blend fabric, these same Christians will tell you that homosexuality is a sin while the book of Leviticus speaks strongly against both practices.

Our own interpretations of The Bible are limited by our own perspective and beliefs. These interpretations have led some of us to overly defending and protecting its texts.  I believe that Scripture, just as in any other stories, must be also be read in the other’s eyes, “unprotected,” so to speak, [and Jennifer Knust already beat me to the term “Unprotected Texts.”] I hope that my visual renderings of these stories would amount to a material trace of the narratives, not that the images are masterfully represented, but are “brought to light” from a different perspective, an emerging perspective, as one who only started doing this about five years ago.

About macconlon

Artist, activist, community organizer now working as a Community Minister for the Davenport Perth Community Ministry of the Shining Waters Region of the United Church of Canada.
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