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?