SOLC Day 8: On the Origin of Images

March 2021 SOLC–Day 8
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.

Much to my delight, we were able to visit the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine late last month. After entering at the time designated on our pre-purchased tickets, we were instructed how to follow the safety protocols of the museum. The main instruction was to sanitize and then follow the careful trail of directional arrows through the galleries. No backtracking. They instructed us to keep six feet between us and anyone else, but since we only saw 4 other people during our visit, that wasn’t a challenge. We happily entered and immediately immersed ourselves in the art.

About midway through our “guided tour” we came upon this painting.

Hammer Head - Farnsworth Art Museum

It’s not really my style, but it was a striking painting and the vivid swirl of colors drew my eyes immediately. What is it? I wondered. I leaned closer to check out the informational panel. The piece was titled “Hammerhead” and was painted by David Salle.

Is that a hammerhead shark? Or is it the head of a hammer? Could it be a person?

I tilted my head one way and then the other. I still wasn’t sure. I read on seeking clarity. What soon became clear was that I was not the only one questioning what objects were at the center of Salle’s painting. The panel quoted him responding, “…to focus on where the images come from distorts their life together in a painting.”

Hmmmm…This got me thinking about writing and the various bits and pieces that can come together in a poem or a story. Sometimes I wonder where these ideas come from–when I’m reading someone else’s work or when I’m writing my own pieces. But does it really matter? Is it important where these “images” come from?

Earlier in the museum, I’d lingered in the gallery of Andrew Wyeth paintings. I loved reading about his life, his relationships, his love of Maine. This influenced how I viewed his work. For example, knowing that the man Wyeth painted in “Adrift” was his childhood companion enriched my experience of that piece.

a close up of Adrift by Andrew Wyeth

And in my own work, origin does matter to me. I find that I learn a lot about myself when I write. Part of that learning comes from sifting through and choosing which bits and pieces to try to capture on the page. Often the learning comes from the objects and images that bubble up without my conscious intent. But is that important for my reader to know? Or Salle’s viewer?

Does understanding or knowing the origin of images add to the emotional resonance or impact of a piece of art? Or is it really about how images exist and interact on the canvas or on the page that is the most critical? I know which way I’m leaning, but I’m still pondering.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “SOLC Day 8: On the Origin of Images

  1. kimjohnson66 says:

    I had a college professor who constantly reminded us that “the reader writes the story.” I think the same is true of art. The viewer paints the picture.


  2. humbleswede says:

    This is very deep for 6:23 on a Monday morning, but it is an interesting question. I think I lean toward your side of this. I read stories and look at art as a way to connect with people and characters, even if remotely. I like knowing backstories or the origins of an idea. That helps me to know the artist. I do, though, sometimes like the separation that allows me to like an Ezra Pound poem even if I think he was not a nice man, or to see a paining like Hammerhead and make my own meaning. Who was it who said, “I feel strongly both ways”? Scarecrow?

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      You bring up the whole murky area of how we deal with art created by people who are, to borrow your phrase, “not nice.” That’s a really involved conversation. After I wrote this, I also thought about the number of times I’ve eavesdropped on museum docents giving tours and gained a new appreciation for a piece of art based on what they revealed about the artist. It was interesting to read Salle’s perspective and think a bit more about mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. amyilene says:

    I really loved this and I felt safe meandering through these questions with you….and that painting! What does it say about me that I see a woman banging (hammering?) her head on a table? This has given me a lot to think about. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      My daughter also saw a woman, though I don’t know if she was banging her head on the table. I really found it interesting to consider Salle’s perspective.


  4. margaretsmn says:

    Where did I read that art is a conversation between the artist and the viewer. I like your questions. Like writing sometimes there’s no answer and that’s ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It seems like a lot of concept art is all about understanding the backstory. We all look at pieces of conceptual art and say, “I could have done that.” Don’t get me wrong-I love conceptual art. But, I wonder about writing. Is it always necessary to understand the background before you read a piece? When I receive feedback on a piece of writing, I find it interesting how different the reader’s perception of my work is compared to my intention. Should I keep editing until I get to the feedback I wanted? Or should I wonder with amazement at the process of interaction and ideas through art and a writing piece? What a great thought provoking piece you wrote today. I wonder if you were expecting these comments?

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions. One of the best editing experiences I ever had was when the reader viewed my piece quite differently than I had intended it. Her comments made me realize that I had to revise to make my piece much clearer if I wanted my intended meaning to come through. Sometimes when you’re close to the material, it’s hard to see it clearly. I suppose that’s when a trusted reader’s feedback is most valuable.


  6. kd0602 says:

    I do like to know the backstory–and I’m always fascinated when there really isn’t a backstory. As the mom of an artist, I have learned that sometimes there is nothing deep that instigated the work of art. Sometimes art just emerges. Sometimes it is experimentation. Sometimes the artist doesn’t have words to describe the backstory.

    Thanks for asking such interesting questions!



  7. Susan Bruck says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts–it really is a fascinating question about whether knowing the backstory makes the art better or not. Back when I took art history of modern art, we looked at a piece of art that was a short film of the artist trying to breathe water and choking. I did not enjoy or appreciate it. When I heard the story behind it–which I no longer remember, but it was some kind of philosophical idea he was testing–I find the idea interesting, but I thought that I don’t really like art that I can only appreciate if I know the story behind it. Still, I find that the story behind art can enhance my appreciation–but only if I connect to the art, as well.


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