How do you title your clouds?
"Still Life with Cherries", "Blue Pitcher and White Roses".
These are titles that you might see associated with a still life painting or a photograph. They describe the subject of the painting and you can probably visualize images in your head to match.
Now think about the titles, Hope Springs Eternal or Offering. What kind of mental pictures come to mind?
Which implies more of an essence of something and which implies more of a story?
In her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, choreographer Twyla Tharp makes a distinction between artists who see the world at a distance with some detachment, and those who see the narrative and involve themselves in a story. After learning that there are two Greek words for life, zoe and bios, Tharp postulates that they can mean very different things when applied to creative endeavors, as bios distinguishes between one life and another and zoe refers to the aggregate. To illustrate her point, she uses the example of choreographer George Balanchine who was the "essence of zoe. Most of his ballets are beautiful plotless structures that mirror the music rather than interpret it. They do not need language to explain themselves, nor do they try to tell a story." On the other hand, Jerome Robbins, another of her favorite choregraphers, was "pure bios...a master of details he could tell a story that had, as a subtext, life".
In the years since I first read about Tharp's distinction between zoe and bios, I have attempted to understand better my own creative orientation. The answer was obvious and it came about by considering the titles of most of my still life paintings. Generally, I don't title a still life, "Yellow Roses" or "White Roses in Front of Mirror". I see the story, the narrative, in most everything. Some of these stories are very personal and specific and some are not. The painting Hope Springs Eternal contains the beginnings of a novel. Beauty, Real and Imagined, is a story poem. I tend not to elaborate too much on my own story with words, so that the viewer can find a story of their own making in the visual experience. It is similar, I think, to an author writing from a personal perspective with certain feelings and images in mind. Readers develop their own feelings and images based on their own life experience (which we all know is why books made into movies so often fall short: they overwrite our own personal stories with a general one).
As a child, I gazed for hours, days, weeks, months, at this watercolor painting by my Uncle John.
I saw a little bear peeking from around a pillar and a rather irritable chicken and a sweet doll with her head on a pillow. The chicken is the boss, the bear is quite shy and the doll is peaceful and unfettered, despite her poorly angled pillow, its warm yellow countering the discomfort. Do you see the story?
It wasn't until much later in my life that I realized that this abstract watercolor was a still life, probably with some onions, eggs and some cannisters of some kind by a curtained window.
The next time you are looking out the window or are outside and have a chance to look up and view clouds in a blue sky, what do you see? How would you title it? Do you see the magnificence of cumulus vapors sweeping through the grand atmosphere of our planet, or do you see a horse, moving backward through some swirling water? I am currently viewing the latter out of my studio window. I guess I must lean toward the narrative! Imaginative narratives, in concert with light in all of its manifestations, provide an infinite and ongoing well of glorious inspiration.