A picture paints a thousand words – or does it?

Take a look at the picture above, it’s a rowing boat on turquoise water.
Do you like it any more if I tell you that it was once owned by a man who survived a shipwreck and he escaped certain death by rowing it to safety?
Or that I took that picture in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard the day my now husband proposed?
Or that that picture represents survival, it is a metaphor for escaping the dark deep cold waters of depression and finding the refuge of a simple rowing boat in a beautiful turquoise sea?
Actually, none of those are true (although I rather like the last one, it could be true….).   It is a gorgeous rowing boat I spotted last Valentines Day whilst I was indeed visiting Portsmouth Dockyard with my husband, but we were already married.   It is moored under a wooden building which is now used as a cafe, we had a lovely coffee there if I recall.

I ask this question because I have been looking at a lot of art recently and I have been struck by the way that some artists give an explanation for their work and some don’t and the difference really affects how I feel about it.   I guess some people feel that their art should speak for itself.   However, especially if it is abstract, the viewer cannot know the artists intention, the background, the feelings, the motivation, and the blood sweat and tears that went into making it.     Some art exhibitions leave me cold because I just don’t get it.    I walk around and get no emotional connection to the work, although I can recognise the skill, endeavor and pleasing aesthetics behind it.
I have seen two excellent exhibitions at Chichester University now, their 2015 BA and MA Fine Art shows – along with a lot of other shows by other Galleries and Universities – and what really stands out is that the artists at Chichester give a narrative about their work, they explain their journey, their inspiration and what they were aiming to achieve.  And it makes such a difference!   Reading the blurb really brings the work alive – you can then step back, let the work sink in and see if you feel the same.  Can you see what they were aiming for?  How do you feel about how they went about it? Etc etc.
I have also been to an exhibition recently where there was no explanation, and the work was complicated, and without any context it left me cold.  Worse than that, it felt like I was being excluded from an exclusive club and wasn’t being allowed access.    The art world should not be exclusive, but inclusive.
Austin Kleon covers this in his book “Show your work!” and says:

“Words matter.   Artists love to trot out the tired line ‘My work speaks for itself’ but the truth is, our work doesn’t speak for itself.  Human beings want to know where things come from, how they were made and who made them.  The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it.”

So, as I start my MA Fine Art this week I know that when I exhibit, there will be a narrative with my work to enrich the experience of the viewer, because I want to give them a head start in understanding where I was coming from, not leave them in the dark!

4 thoughts on “A picture paints a thousand words – or does it?

  1. The boat in the turquoise sea looks beautiful. I love when the sea is that colour. It reminds me of home. For me, art comes from the heart and the energy sometimes defies description but it is worth explaining what we are feeling when presenting our work. x


    1. Thank you, yes, I think it is beautiful too. And yes, it can be very hard to describe where something came from, and sometimes that is ok, but when a piece of art is particularly inaccessible, I think you have to give people a clue!

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