Painted Picture Speaking —

“Everybody must like something and I like seeing painted pictures… There is no reason for it but for some reason, anything reproduced by paint, preferably, I may even say certainly, by oil paints on a flat surface holds my attention…  In short, anything painted in oil anywhere on a flat surface holds my attention and I can always look at it and slowly yes slowly I will tell you about it.”

Gertrude Stein, from “Pictures,” in Lectures in America, and quoted in John Updike, Still Looking: Essays on American Art, 2005

For me also, anything painted in oil paints on a flat surface holds my attention.  I will tell you that this is a painting imbued with the colors of San Miguel de Allende, colonial city in central Mexico, where the brilliant sun lights up the sky, the flowers, the crumbling adobe, everything —   It held my attention for the four weeks I spent painting it.

I had for several years been painting still lifes in “classical” chiaroscuro dims and darks. I loved them, and they suited (so I felt) our harsh and dark Berkshire winters. But by the time we took our second winter break in San Miguel, something in me yearned desperately for light and color, and I found a teacher who helped me throw away my tube of black paint. Helped me transform my palette. That’s what I can tell you, swiftly or slowly, about my painting.

But there’s something else that’s possible —  If you read Gertrude Stein’s statement slowly, slowly — you can hear its rhythms, hear how it’s put together, listen to her speaking. You can listen to the words.  In the same way — not in reproduction, but in front of the real thing, in front of any oil paints on a flat surface — you can, slowly, slowly, listen to the painting as it tells you about itself —

Not mine,  because you cannot see its brush strokes, its surface. It exists for you only here in reproduction. But the next time you go to a museum or are in a home or anywhere where there are paintings on a wall, oil paints on a flat surface, take some time to listen to one of them (because it takes time).  Listen slowly until the painting slowly tells you about itself, about how it is put together, and then slowly you can tell me what it says —

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28 Responses to Painted Picture Speaking —

  1. Pauline says:

    Even without seeing the brush strokes, even without reading your descriptive words, I could tell you a thing or two about sun-colored lemons on a brilliant white tea towel or sunset hued pears on a rough cutting board. Tart lemons disguised by light, sweet pears enhanced by chiaroscuro dims, also say something about an artist attuned to external and internal weathers, a yearning for light, an appreciation of contrast. Everything we do speaks about us, everything we see speaks to us. Listening helps us see, seeing helps us notice, noticing helps us sort, sorting helps us do. You, my friend, are an artist of both the spoken and painted word.


  2. ceceliafutch says:

    I think that the next time I go to the art museum, I will go with a “listening” eye now….and heart. Lovely post. Thanks.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      I foresee that you will be amazed — if you take the time. (I mean, ten minutes with one painting is just a beginning, a chair would be helpful!)
      That’s always key — and we always feel so short of time —
      Cleveland has a WONDERFUL art museum.


  3. tms says:

    Your post encourages me to admit that the one thing that appeals to me most in pictures – painted, etched, drawn, but sometimes photographed as well – is their ‘sound’. And though I am generally very much attracted to more modern sounds, yours reverberate with me.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Photographs definitely count among “speaking” pictures.
      I am glad these two paintings have a pleasing “sound” to you, but in general I too am drawn to much more modern modes.
      My classical painting phase is behind me altogether now — but I enjoyed it immensely while I was doing it, and learned a great deal about how artists make pictures, invaluable stuff that reading about, without doing, would never have shown me. Speaking of earlier discussions about experience….;-)


  4. Lovely words and images. When I take the time to linger over a painting I learn how “it” is put together and I learn how “I” am put together.


  5. Judith,

    Read your insightful post on Happiness in this World regarding Pandora’s Box… delighted to find your inspired words/photos/sounds on your blogs.
    Love the pears and lemons.



  6. Rebekah says:

    «all of what Pauline said»

    Next time, I’ll make a point of taking longer time and ‘listen’. Was dating an artist for a while, and we had endless discussions about pictorial arts. His, was very abstract. I could tell right away whether I liked them … or not, but I don’t think my senses were developed for that type of visual art. I rather like your pears.

    Once, I guess he got so fed up with those discussions so he took a pencil and drew an eagle. It was beautiful, I was really impressed so I said «OMG … you CAN when you want to!» which made him really depressed 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Oh, my, Rebekah! That story really made me chuckle —

      It’s like Picasso — people who only saw his breakthrough art were amazed when they discovered what a SUPERB draftsman he was — when he chose. But Picasso never got depressed, I don’t think. He always had his ego to cheer him up. 🙂


    • Stef says:

      NOTE FROM T2T: Stef is commenting on Rebekah’s story!

      I laughed out loud reading your comment. Awesome. 😉


      • Rebekah says:


        @Stef Now, eleven years later, I, too, can laugh out loud. It was a both dreadful and — in hindsight — interesting story. It could be used as a warning, had I felt comfortable enough to write about it in a public blog. But I don’t.


        • Stef says:

          Oh gosh, I don’t see it as “dreadful”; I see it as two very different minds coming together and interacting in shared space. One mind is very literal, and one mind is very abstract – and finally one mind ‘concedes’ to the other, and mutual understanding is formed. I think it’s cool!

          And I think it’s hilarious that egos refuse to do this more often than I know in my heart we all *could* do – if only we were all willing to make that choice more often. 😉

          I also think it would make for a great short story. Perhaps one day you’ll be open to writing it…?


  7. Smallpeace says:

    I really like that image, Cecelia, of the “listening” eye. I may have to borrow that one. And of course, the miraculous, rich experience of taking time to see. The process of painting a still life is such a beautiful marriage of the doing and the seeing. Lovely post.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Time in the seeing,
      Time in the painting,
      Time in the viewing.
      There really aren’t any shortcuts — despite the people who zoom through the galleries mentally checking off how much they’ve “done” of the exhibit!


  8. Stef says:

    1) I *love* your light-and-bright pears as opposed to your dark-and-heavy ones – it’s difficult to tell that they are both representations of the same thing! I likely wouldn’t have put that together had you not told us – so thank you for telling us! 🙂

    2) When I was a child, people would tease me for staring at paintings at the museum for so long. But didn’t they see the brush strokes? How could they just whip past a painting, barely pausing long enough to stand in front of it? They were missing so much of it! (The same thing with music – in church choir I would always stand with my hand on the piano, so that I could *feel* the music. People called me ‘Hellen Keller’ – but couldn’t they hear all of the richness of tone they were missing by not FEELING the music too? Apparently not.) I’m glad to know I have a fellow “seer”. 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Re. 2), Stef — I’m with you all the way! I think people rush too much; they used to — and often still do — think I’m too slow. And how goal-oriented is all this? We have to see everything in the museum show, and be home in time for tea —- that’s an old-fashioned phrase, but conveys what I mean. Whereas if I take a quick glance around and then spend my time getting to know one, perhaps two, rarely three paintings — I’m happy. BTW, seems to me I’ve seen articles on how some deaf people can actually “hear” music by doing just you did as a child.

      Re. 1) — my bad, I mis-explained something somewhere. They’re lemons (the brights of San Miguel) and pears (the dark angry ones from the Berkshires). ((I titled that one to myself, The Angry Pears.))
      Lemons in San Miguel were yellow-er than at home, and there weren’t any pears around at all. Even the crumbling stucco walls of San Miguel are bright — I’ll be posting one or two of them on View from the Woods for the Weekly Photo Challenge of Textured —


  9. thirdhandart says:

    Both are very beautiful paintings. Even though I can’t see the brush strokes, the light and color of the first painting seems to be saying “Don’t worry, be happy!”
    I too can stand and look at a painting for an hour. All this time, I thought I was weird.
    Thank you for setting me straight.


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