It’s been noted that young twins, left alone together, sometimes develop unique and original words and even sentence structures to communicate with each other. An idiosyncratic language, a condition known as “ideoglossia,” is also sometimes found in only one person. I’ve noticed it myself when I’ve been confined for long periods on my own in remote places. At one time I started calling my large soft brush a “spleeb.”
Idiosyncratic forms of visual art are commonplace and desirable. Developed over time, the individualist artist can lay claim to a style, although it may not be copyrighted or patentable. While uniform agreement on the meaning of words is appropriate for communication between humans, each artist is well advised to explore a unique visual language and develop it.
After that recent blog-radio interview, many artists asked how to go about speaking in their own tongues. Here are a few thoughts:
Don’t be afraid to fall back and take your own counsel. You are the only person you will have to live with significantly, and you may as well get to like and trust yourself.
Always be open and curious as to what you may be doing wrong. Little wrong things that you can get to like can send you on the track of something new or original.
Wear a different cap when you sit back and contemplate your work. You’ll notice nuances, touches and subtle ideas that were not evident when you were in the middle of it.
Be prepared to take risks. You need to be able to get your brush around what you’re up to, but if you don’t swing out, you’ll never know what’s out there.
Be prepared to fall in love. Sometimes love creeps up on you and you hardly know what’s happening. Just like luvvy-duvvy talk between couples, so too does a unique language of creative love manifest between an artist and her work. Love smites you during the act of discovery and the exercise of process. As you do your work, you discover what you love to do. Thus blessed, you will need to do it again. Do it again and you can claim it as your own.
PS: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from a deep woods not far from my studio. Morning and evening, Barred owls, seldom seen in the tall cedars and firs, call to one another. Deep-throated or sometimes high-pitched, the story’s the same: “Who, who, who cooks for you?” This year there are three distinct voices — perhaps it’s a young one who joins in. Maybe I’m putting too much meaning into things, but the kid seems troubled, difficult, petulant, annoyed, spoiled, lazy. Sometimes the parents take a long time to respond. Speaking to them in Owlish, I advise the parents to migrate, but they are too stuck in their ways.
A done deal
by Mary Ann Pals, Chesterton, IN, USA
When I’m working on a new piece of artwork and am nearing the end, I ask myself, “Are you done, or are you done done?” Sounds rather silly, I know, but one ‘done’ means I’m at a stopping point and ready to step back and evaluate. ‘Done done’ means it’s ready for a frame… and I’d better get it in the frame NOW before I kill it. I must confess that I usually don’t ask myself this question. It’s the painting that I ask. And if I listen intently, it answers. Paintings have a language all their own.
Dynamics of a female artist
by Lynne Bryant, Hartville, WY, USA
I have heard you say that 80% of the artists in America are women. We women are relational beings. We have to develop a relationship with things that are important to us. At the same time, we are raised to be selfless nurturers, putting ourselves last. This is not the place that beauty and art come from, especially when the most important relationship any of us will ever have is the one with ourselves! Painting love and beauty begins with falling in love with the special unique “self” the inner “self” the core of who we are. Then, we have to develop a relationship with our work and work from a place of love… love being the source energy of all creation. Without a full measure of self-love, we can’t give love to anything, because we don’t have it to give. The time leading up to my serious painting a couple of years ago was a journey of self-discovery and learning the art of self-love so that my art would have all the love I have to give. The work is worlds better than I thought I’d ever do, as in ever and it is more fulfilling than I have ever experienced it as well. For me, painting is now an act of love and joy, and I know it shows.
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Silencing the pesky voices
by Pia De Girolamo, Ambler, PA, USA
I needed this letter. I have been doing a lot of shows the past few months and as a result it’s been hard to get into the studio. All the energy seems to go into the shows. I am looking forward to a break and getting back into the studio again but I find that there is this undercurrent of doubt seeping in. Can I be creative? Is my work worth anything? Pesky voices that can only be silenced by… going back into the studio again, and by telling myself that I am not going to get to work “seriously” but I’m going to give myself time “to play.”
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Ideoglossia and JRR Tolkien
by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA
Your readers may find it fun to note that ideoglossia is behind the famous Tolkien books — at least the use of the ancient languages and invented ones! Because he and his brother lost their parents and so were close as twins, they created their own languages and learned the ancient ones and used them for their special bonding. Creating the world of “The Inklings” his first effort… was just part of the fun he and his brother used to win at life and enjoy the bond.
Unique voice dependent on technique
by Jeanne Rhea, Raleigh, NC, USA
I work with alcohol inks and resin and obtain interesting patterns due partly to the chemical reactions between the products and the substrates I use. I often describe my work as going with the flow as I apply the inks and then the inks make their own patterns based on what other types of inks they come in contact with. The same with painting with resins. I often drop, splatter, flow by tilting, but rarely use a paintbrush. Most often, I paint wet-on-wet.
A few weeks ago, I had a painting at Art of the Carolinas as part of a guild exhibit. Dozens of times I was asked what style of art it was. At first, I thought the questions were in regards to the materials used, but when explaining the inks and process, they would press for more info on the style of art. I would reply with contemporary abstract, but still not able to describe it to their satisfaction. Only after a couple said, “You know — like impressionism, surrealism — what style is it?” did I fully understand the question. So I have been contemplating this for the past month.
There are several painters working in methods that are highly dependent on the paints or inks, glues or resins and the substrates that are used. Although I know eight painters who have a similar style, the paintings are still very much identified with a particular artist. To name one, William Loveless uses glue and drops inks or paints onto a wet surface. If you read his blog, you can see that his work is very dependent on technique that he has perfected along with the chosen paints to obtain the patterns or designs.
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The interaction of twins and others
by Bonnie Vandercook, Jacksonville, FL, USA
I took great interest in your mention of twins and their unique form of expression between them. I am a nanny and have had the pleasure of working for more than one family of twins. I have also experienced mirroring, especially in the children’s art. I have been amazed to see the children doing this without being in the presence of one another. There have been times I did not perceive it until I put their art side by side. All very fascinating stuff!
(RG note) Thanks, Bonnie. For those who might be interested, mirroring is a form of behavior in which one person copies another person usually while in social interaction. It may include miming gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, tempo, accent, attitude, choice of words/metaphors, etc. It is often observed among couples or close friends. Just as the person sitting opposite you will unconsciously cross their legs when you cross yours, an artist may imitate the work of someone else in the same proximity.
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The forever-seeking artist
by Beverly Galante, Austin, TX, USA
As a young artist I branched out and swung whichever way I was in the mood to paint. It got me a scholarship. Later I went into stained glass and as a glass artist I never adhered to any rules and I won awards, eventually had to hire employees and I became so popular that I was asked to have a feature segment on a popular Boston channel. Then after 15 years of that, I was so burnt out, I went into fabric art, doing wall hangings that won over 15 awards. That said… I am now starting to paint again and all I seem to be able to do is paint “tight.” I really want to branch out, but am having trouble. Thought it was my age, but now I wonder if it isn’t fear. Fear that my art won’t be accepted, that I will never sell a piece of art again, or that I will begin to paint stuff I absolutely don’t even like. Help… What is my language?
(RG note) Thanks, Beverly. On looking at the significant number of letters that came in on this topic, it seems to me that some artists’ voices may be that of forever changing and searching. These travellers are conscripted by inner restlessness to a lifetime of exploration. That is their tongue and their great contribution.
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The magic of multitasking
by Patricia Sharp, Millbridge, ME, USA
I have A Gemini rising, so multitasking is my work mode. Sensitive to the fact that one’s unconscious comes forth in a painting… I may be working on several which express different emotions. Then there is the “day off” painting excursion: the resulting painting of the apple orchard may not fit into the body of paintings you are putting on show, but it is valuable for the learning process of painting it. Then there are demos you do for a class if you teach. One of those — cows in a spring pasture with blue puddles lying on frozen tractor ruts — is my daughter’s most prized painting and as the March picture in last year’s art calendar, it is the favorite (the vegetable still life in primary colors, gets painted over). At one point I showed cityscapes (living in the city) then moved to the country and showed a series of county fair paintings for a show “Six N J Realists.” I began trying to express Maine tidepools in the ’60s, an interesting composition challenge, with the perspective of “looking down into.” The plein air challenge there… low tide which reveals the prize, doesn’t linger and there is danger of being marooned out on that far rock when the tide comes in or inundation of your painting and supplies. After much challenge, I learned how to photograph them (need shadow to see beyond the sun’s glare…) and with my local tide pools, now closed in by excess slippery seaweed growth, and (when carrying scissors to cut it and teetering out to look… sadly, ocean pollution has changed the character of them completely, rendering the colors dingy, with chartreuse fungus growth, and orange fishermen’s gloves lodged, spoiling what I used to see. With advanced technology, I can convert slides into prints on my Canon Pixma printer, as projector bulbs are rare and dear, these days.
Craft and Art
by Linda Thoman, GA, USA
Craftsmanship in art is essential. You must be able to use your medium to get a desired effect. In some art, more or less craftsmanship is employed in this pursuit. My friend Molly Lesnikowski of the Red Doors Studio proclaims herself a “decorative painter” when she paints on floor-cloths, furniture and other useable objects. (She is also a fine artist, muralist and illustrator, but those are different hats she wears.) I argue that she is always an artist and just uses more of the “craft” in those fine craftsmanship products she retails at her studio in Rutledge, GA.
As a practicing artist, I am often inspired by the other artists. I can’t tell you how many times I have left an exhibit of art and needed to get straight to work. For me, it’s usually an idea I’ve gotten from another artist’s use of a medium that sparks this creative juice.
But the inspiration and vision an artist conveys goes beyond simple mastery of a medium. Is this the “art” part of the work? Can it really be separated from the “craft” part?
As a docent at the Steffen Thomas Museum of Art in Madison, GA, I help visitors understand the work of this American Expressionist. Steffen Thomas believed that in order to create art, you needed to study the classics. I’m told this artist had little patience with commercial working artists of his day who showed no historical perspective. I wish I had met Steffen Thomas when he was alive. I have so much I’d like to talk to him about! I think he would have agreed with me that self-taught artists of many backgrounds have an historical perspective, although not classical.
Steffen Thomas was also the type of artist who worked with many mediums. He was primarily a sculptor, but his archives are represented by almost every medium one could imagine: glass mosaic; sculpture in stone, wood, ceramic and metal; oil, watercolor, encaustic, acrylic, print or color markers, it’s all here. I think the craft informed the art. Or is it that the art informed the craft? It’s linked here in a visually stimulating way.
About photography: I’m not a photographer, but I live with one. I can tell you… those perfect shots hardly ever happen as a “happy accident.” Dan Thoman spends hours studying his subjects and can work for days before he gets the shot he is happy with. It’s also true that he studies technology incessantly, so that he has the best tools and techniques to get what he wants. Craftsmanship, but also much artistic expression is employed in the art of photography.
Perhaps, in these hard times, art is relying on very strong craftsmanship to sell itself. Is it a way to separate the serious practitioners from those who maybe don’t work so hard? Does this matter more now than it did when the economy was better? Anyone can pick up a brush or a camera, but it takes persistence to master your craft. If this is a trend, I think Steffen Thomas and I would agree. Better craftsmanship creates better art.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Heidi Adkins of Pleasant Grove, UT, USA, who wrote, “And on the flipside, I still tend to agree with my old professor at BYU, Bruce Smith, who told me, ‘When we start to imitate ourselves, we are in trouble.’ ”
And also Elizabeth Janeway >who wrote, “Owls do not migrate. In bad years, snowy owls do travel south in search of food, but I believe your Barred owls are year-round residents.”
(RG note) Thanks, Elizabeth. I only advised them to migrate. Not everyone takes my advice.
Enjoy the past comments below for In search of ideoglossia…