Art I Don’t Like

Watch this yellow butterfly painting come alive in about 2 minutes (time lapse)

What we see and feel about art is highly individual, personal, and intimate. It’s always interesting to see what people respond to, and what they like. It’s even more intriguing when the work I don’t like is a favorite of others- like this yellow butterfly which I didn’t enjoy painting, even though I tried to and had a few fleeting moments that felt sort of like joy. And then I didn’t like the finished art either. I was frustrated by it and almost binned it.

But it ticked off a box for a project goal and it would have been foolish to dump it, and get behind schedule, just because I didn’t personally care for it. So, I was committed to it. Well, my daughter really liked this one. I suppose that’s not too surprising, since sometimes we have the exact same taste in something (and compete to grab it first!), and other times we are polar opposites.

Later, when I shared this painting, one of my customers said she really liked this one, as one of her favorite works I’ve done. REALLY? But why? The thing is, I can’t even say why I don’t like it. I don’t know why. I just don’t. And that intrigues me… it’s how I know I’ve made it as an artist. My art isn’t about me and as soon as I set my paintbrush down, it no longer belongs to just me. It doesn’t even matter if I personally don’t like my art or if I don’t connect with it. Someone else will, and it’s not up to me to decide which paintings they can connect with and which ones I don’t allow them to see. No, art as a vocation is a language that is shared without censorship, not even self-censorship.

Now, obviously if my painting fails to make a project goal at some point- which has never happened- then I can justify binning it. But I’m past the skill level for that to happen. I’m rather stuck with my projects if my only real issue is “I don’t like it”. I don’t have to like it. If I insist that all of my paintings must be to my personal taste, I’ll never reach my lifetime goal of 1k finished paintings, and I’ll also have a one-sided conversation. Sometimes others connected differently to art than I do. What I might see as a disappointment, another person may see as special. Why is my perspective superior to theirs? It isn’t.

This same philosophy can be applied to all human interactions and ways of communicating. We must be humble enough to lay down our impulse to be the arbitrator of what people should connect with or what they should hear, see, do, think, feel and believe. We are not all the same, but our needs are the same. We all need to be respected for who we are, given freedom to think as we wish, and an opportunity to reject or connect on a deeper level to things that we can’t explain.

Painting Imaginary Places

The reaction to my art is very individual, as is art in general. What is “meh” to one person, may be emotionally powerful to another. I sometimes paint from real life scenes, photographs, or memories, but other times I invent the entire concept from start to finish- just letting my imagination flow. It’s fascinating when people connect deeply to a place that only existed in my mind, but once painted, now exists in the natural world as if it were a real place. The place is real to the person who connects with it.

Someone told me (after seeing my “Mountain Landscape” video, below), “I want to go there!” The trouble is, this place doesn’t exist other than in this painting. I didn’t even look at anything to paint it. I just put music on and let the scene take on a life of its own. 

The water is a moving, active element. I let the flow of the water direct the painting. In this way, the scene fell into an organic sense of order, as the scene mimicked the natural world. Water often shapes our landscape.

In the first painting I shared, “Dove in a Forest”, the scene looks less natural because it is rigid and orderly. The trees are like columns. But this style appeals to many, and that piece is a favorite of one of my dear friends. I tried to learn what people like about it, but they find it hard to describe.

Maybe it has something to do with the contrast between the still and wooden quality of the unnaturally orderly forest and the beauty of the living dove, who is in flight? The greens, odd blues, and browns of the forest are in stark contrast to the bright white dove, who seems to glow. Contrasting elements that share the same space can be felt as “balance”. Balance and harmony are peaceful.

Let’s talk now about the third painting I shared, “Rose in a Moonlit Forest”. This one is more about an imagined emotional and mental space, than about a fantasy imaginary place. First, I’ll share the video.

You may have noticed that this piece originally had a different title- “Blooming Through”. This art was painted for a charity auction to benefit families with children who have autism.

(autistic mind is) like a solitary rose growing against all odds inside a stone wall, surrounded by an environment that is quiet, dark, and yet when the moon shines- a brief, perhaps rare, light- is mysteriously beautiful.

Natalie Buske Thomas, “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature”

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Some may claim that I have glorified or downplayed autism, but this painting was meant to express the profound love that families have for their children who have autism. Art is a language. Sometimes we understand each other perfectly, and other times we don’t. A grandmother of an autistic child was greatly moved by this painting. She understood what I was trying to say, and felt the empathy.

The rose represents a child, alone in a tranquil woods, yet also trapped there- in a stoned wall, where it’s difficult to grow, or connect. Yet, there is always hope, and moments of blooming through, when the moonlight shines upon this precious loved one. And that is beautiful.

Technique note: This was my first experience using a pre-painted black canvas. I was pleased with the illusion it gave my paints- that the colors were glowing, or metallic- especially when the oils were wet. This worked out well for the video, and for the emotions I was expressing in this piece.