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Think in the Language of Art

by Keith Bond on 1/26/2009 4:11:09 PM

Today's Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author

Nearly 20 years ago, I spent a couple of years living in Switzerland (also a few months each in Germany and Austria).  Before living there, I had taken 4 years of German in High School.  I also spent a month living in Germany with a German family while participating in a school exchange program.  Additionally, I had taken several college German classes.  As I went to live in Switzerland, I was quite confident in my abilities to speak German.  It was a rude awakening, however, when I arrived in Switzerland.  I didn't understand much at all.  Text book German and the spoken language were quite different (exaggerated with the Swiss dialect, but this holds true even when 'High German' is spoken).  I studied daily and was slowly improving my ability to communicate.  During a conversation, I would need to translate from German to English and back again.  It was frustrating and difficult.   

Then one day something happened.  I began to think in German.  I also began to dream in German.  This did not mean that I was suddenly fluent.  It did not mean that I understood everything right away.  But, once I began to think in German, the rate of learning was accelerated dramatically.  Eventually, I was better able to understand and express myself.  I became fluent in the language.

You probably have figured out where I am going with this.  There are several parallels with learning the visual language of art.

When I first began to take art seriously, I studied and learned as much as I could.  I took many courses in college (though I wasn't an art major).  Progress was slow and frustrating.  I couldn't express myself.  I could barely keep from making mud with the paint. 

One day, though, it happened.  My wife and I were camping in the mountains.  I awoke to a beautiful cool morning.  As I strolled along the nearby creek, I suddenly saw differently than I ever had before.  I no longer just saw water and rocks, but I suddenly began to see shapes of color.  I saw values and patterns. I saw relationships.  I began to see as an artist.  

This did not mean that I was suddenly fluent in the language of art.  But the rate at which I developed accelerated.   I was learning in a new way.  It was exciting and invigorating. 

Just as I was able to finally speak and understand German, I was finally developing the ability to apply paint.  And, just as I still didn't know everything about German (I don't even know everything about English!), I likewise still don't know everything about art.  I am still striving to improve.  I am still learning.

Additionally, the ability to speak German or English, does not mean that what I have to say is meaningful.  This concept is also paralleled in art.  To master technique is different than to express an idea but we'll save that part of it for later.  But know this, if one has profound wisdom, and has a great command of a language, he or she can communicate and share that wisdom with more authority and power than someone who stumbles through, trying to find the right words.  If I wish to communicate my message in art with more clarity and power, I must continue to learn and grow as an artist.  I must think in the language of art.

Just as a language can be lost if not spoken for years, the ability to paint or draw can be lost if not nurtured.   But, it returns quickly once you again immerse yourself in it.  To those of you who may have put art on hold for a while: know that it will come back.  Be patient and continue to practice.  The more you do, the sooner it will come. 

Forge on in your efforts to become a better artist.  Whether you are just beginning the artistic journey, or returning after a long absence, one day soon you will begin to dream and think in art.  To those who are further down the road, who do see as an artist: continue to develop your fluency and learn to have something important to say.

Best Wishes,

Keith Bond  


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Lori Woodward Simons
via web
Keith, perfect analogy. Plus a great reminder to look at objects as shape, value and color. You're so right, is indeed a language.

Mary K Broshear
via web

Mary K Broshear
via web
Sorry for mis-post.
I was just beginning to enjoy "seeing" as an artist when I put away my paints to raise my family over 30 years ago. I feel like I lost everything I ever knew about painting. Thanks for the encouraging words. I will be patient with my efforts to regain my artist's sight and language.

Tina Mammoser
via web
Such a great comparison! My German teacher in high school used to talk about 'thinking' in German. Once even praising a student because he got flustered and swore in German, but okay because he instinctively swore in GERMAN haha!

My first art teacher, in an early lesson, told me to look at things and thing how to mix that colour or colours. Look and think about the change in tone. Now I can't help but do that, plus I see everything in terms of a canvas composition. It makes for odd holiday snaps (often without people in them, since I don't paint people so I forget about them).

Like new languages, this is why artists need to practice daily if possible too.


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