In search of ideoglossia

Dear Artist, 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.

A unique language, with nuances

Best regards, Robert, 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  

“Life after death”
pastel painting
by Mary Ann Pals

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  

“Antique rose”
watercolour painting, 12 x 9 inches
by Lynne Bryant

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. There is 1 comment for Dynamics of a female artist by Lynne Bryant
From: Rick Rotante — Dec 13, 2011

Very insightful and thought provoking. It is at the core of most great art created. You are light years ahead of so many still struggling with thier paints. Good luck.

  Silencing the pesky voices by Pia De Girolamo, Ambler, PA, USA  

“Autumn field”
acrylic painting
by Pia De Girolamo

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.”   There is 1 comment for Silencing the pesky voices by Pia De Girolamo
From: Terry Rempel-Mroz — Dec 13, 2011

Lovely abstract — can see the grasses and feel the sun.

  Ideoglossia and JRR Tolkien by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA  

“Arch Rose”
original painting
by Elle Fagan

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  

“Going with the flow”
ink painting, 40 x 30 inches
by Jeanne Rhea

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. There are 2 comments for Unique voice dependent on technique by Jeanne Rhea
From: Wes Giesbrecht — Dec 12, 2011
From: Jeanne Rhea — Dec 13, 2011

Wes, Thanks for commenting and adding your site. I am attempting to find as many artists who are working with similar techniques and materials as I can. Your mosaics are amazing and so geometric. No wonder you found this style of painting fascinating.

  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. There is 1 comment for The interaction of twins and others by Bonnie Vandercook
From: Tatjana — Dec 13, 2011

I have observed mirroring in the corp. world where the team mirrors gestures of a leader with whom they identify. Those who are just trying to appease the boss nod their heads — those who are truly captivated mirror his/her gestures. Fascinating.

  The forever-seeking artist by Beverly Galante, Austin, TX, USA  

“Courage at the Lake”
original painting
by Beverly Galante

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. There are 3 comments for The forever-seeking artist by Beverly Galante
From: anonymous — Dec 13, 2011

I wouldn’t attribute this to inner restlessness but to intense curiosity and a natural need to explore. Some people are homebodies and others need to seek new experiences, and are agents of change.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 13, 2011

I don’t call that tight, I call it nice.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 13, 2011

You are looking at this from the wrong perspective. Age is irrelevant. What others think is also irrelevant. The only one that has to accept your work… is you. Art is a personal journey of discovery- not judged by the amount of sales.

  The magic of multitasking by Patricia Sharp, Millbridge, ME, USA  

“Towards Coll from Caoles, Isle of Tiree”
original painting
by Patricia Sharp

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. There is 1 comment for Craft and Art by Linda Thoman
From: Rick Rotante — Dec 13, 2011

Linda respectfully — Painting isn’t a craft. When one works with crafts one assembles things until one creates a tangible item. The item conveys a feeling or serves a purpose based on a mutual understanding of the thing it represents. Crafts make physical things. Art goes beyond the mere physical object. Art deals with an abstract concept where the substance of colored paint and the artist’s talents and ability is used to manipulate the paint not only make an image but imbue that image with a feeling that isn’t easily conceivable. Many times the work created can be clear and take us to places within ourselves that a simple object can’t. Art causes our minds to soar. Show us things, make us feel. Art can make us conceive in the mind. Art creates ideas and concepts. It has a way of altering a standard of perfection. It can show the horrors of war. Art lives on many levels at once. I understand an artist has to master method and techniques to communicate his message, but method and technique alone are not enough to make a great work of art. Art is about showing alternating points of view about life and circumstances. Art lives on many levels at once. Art can hold up a mirror and allow us to see things differently. It can be a window into worlds never imagined. It can lift our spirits and effect our emotions. It is ever changing.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for In search of ideoglossia

From: Dwight — Dec 09, 2011

Robert, I have done some vochate today and feel pushopple. Your message brought gammvetting. It hit the knabbick. And the code below is to live by.

From: Judith A. Davidson — Dec 09, 2011

As an identical twin, I know my sister and I had our own language when we were young. Although I don’t recall any of the exact words, we still have clairvoyant moments even now. We are often connected when one is ill and we will reach out and call. I have only been painting seriously for six years, but I have always spoken to my paintings and brushes — even the weather, as I love plein air art.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Dec 09, 2011

Couples that spend lot of time together develop ideoglossia as well. Sinisa and I do that and interestingly our word for you is “spleeb”. We were in Crescent Beach last Sunday – walking on trails near the community garden and trying to guess which of the overhanging houses was yours. I wanted to yell “Boooob!” but Sinisa said that wouldn’t be wise.

From: Linda Saccoccio — Dec 09, 2011

I sometimes feel so internally occupied, in my own language, that to put it in words like this would seem to dispel the magic of the process, not to mention it would take a shift from the inside to the outside. I do appreciate that you can do this, and marvel at it. When you state what’s going on so clearly it supports my secret, quiet habits. My abstract language that comes through color, space and gestures is something like the movement of dance or the movement I feel from music that inspires me. I think the visual communicates and resonates within us without verbal articulation, that is the beauty of visual art. It speaks to our senses and immediately. When someone then verbalizes what they experience it is like sharing a treasure they discovered. It often happens for me that when another sees my art and asks specific questions I get to participate in the unpacking of what on some level I know is there, and it is enthralling to be a part of this discovery. Viewers and artists share the gifts of art in this way, and it seems necessary.

From: Alison Flannigan — Dec 09, 2011

I think an artist is actually their own worst critic, I am not yet to the stage on being confident in what I paint but I certainly have started to appreciate that we all have our own style and there is nothing wrong with it. Every painting I have done recently I have tried to challenge myself — e.g. how do I paint water, deep forest and presently animals. The title “artist” to me is something that I am working towards — as of present I consider my self just a “dabbler”.

From: Jacqueline Kinsey — Dec 09, 2011

I remember as a kid camping with my family at Kootenay National Park, Canada, the Park Ranger telling us to listen for the Barred Owl’s unique sound! I have never forgotten that and can it is the only Owl I recognize when I hear it! Also, just a couple years ago I had a close encounter with a Saw-whet when I found him hunting in my haystack!

From: Jean Roberts — Dec 09, 2011

I started painting at 65-no official training and then classes with an amazing local artist — David McEown. When I am called an artist it is rather tongue in cheek that I say yes, it is a hobby and I love it, it was therapeutic on the death of my husband, it has made me so many friends, but the main thing which I am trying to say is we are not all in the art world to make money, yes I have sold a few paintings at our art show sales, I belong to 2 clubs, my family and friends love (some) of my paintings Most clubs want you to have a bio, go on web sites, please let me just be a hobby water-colourist and enjoy my painting. I follow David’s travels and accomplishments with joy, we will be friends for ever.

From: Misty Mawn — Dec 09, 2011

Thanks so much for the awesome emails. I find them to be very inspiring and love how days after reading one I am still thinking about some of what you said. The only thing that could make them even better is if they were a podcast and I could listen to them in my studio.

From: Catherine Stock — Dec 09, 2011

I suppose as I have spent most of my adult life as a professional illustrator and portraitist, I am relishing my current life where I am able to concentrate on my own work without worrying about pleasing someone else. Furthermore, I find that as soon as I think about monetary gain, my work becomes tainted and my muse abandons me. I am fortunate to be in this position, but I worked and saved to be able to do this. Perhaps this is just a temporary, though necessary, phase for me. I do like the idea of eventually having a show and then perhaps I will have to deal with the price issue. I enjoyed your radio interview, though I was a bit irritated with your interviewer for constantly interrupting you, sometimes even trying to answer her own questions.

From: Lina Jones — Dec 09, 2011

Your letter this week seems extra special, especially ‘esoterica’ and the way you have described your beautiful relationship with the owls near your studio. It took me to another place of peace and I could almost hear that little owl family myself, especially the petulant young one. We have magpies here with their young at present, and they have to be the noisiest, most demanding offspring in the bird kingdom and are delightful in their quirky ways. I fed a family of them for almost a year and they ate out of my hand, a very special time for me. I think you may even have inspired me just a little.

From: George Kubac MD — Dec 10, 2011

Since I married my wife I haven’t fallen in love with anything else but art.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt-Toronto,Ontario — Dec 10, 2011

It is also a belief that twins, when they are apart they can feel each others’ feelings especially in intense pain or excitement. I used to lie alone and watch clouds in the sky and see their shapes as an animal or some chariot pulled by horses and other images. I lost my mother when I was young and when I felt sad I sung sentimental songs that expressed the longings of a child for a lost parent. Somehow I felt comforted and happier. I imagined how it was to be held in her arms once again. I also think of my friends under the old mango tree in our school with concrete semi-circular benches around it where we used to share anecdotes and I am contemplating painting it.

From: Linny D. Vine — Dec 12, 2011

When on a visit to Linnyland (where it’s nearly always warm and sunny) the visitor discovers a unique style of paintings. Very often, the Linnyland visitor says, “These paintings make me feel happy! Tell me, Linny, what do you call this style of painting?” “It’s called Linnyism”, I say to the visitor and their smile broadens. ~ Life is good Linnyland — I love it here! ~

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 12, 2011

Some communication is purely visual, other times it is audio. Scenes speak to us as artists and one would assume we are highly visual people. However, when my birds “talk” to me on my back deck under the oaks my vision is arrested and I have to watch, listen, and observe them. Some are more attuned to people than other species and interact on a more personal basis … such as, “The birdbath is empty. Please fill it, now.” Or, “The feeder is low!” Their communication doesn’t need words. Ah, but with my husband of 35 years? One daughter has said, “You guys freak me out.” …. such is communication where you finish each other’s sentences and know what the other is thinking. My art speaks to me but it is more arguing than coming to any consensus. Still working on that ….

From: Reeni Pardy — Dec 15, 2011

Thank you for the word. It is what I have been looking for to describe the way my father (a genius,dyslexic and mildly autistic) spoke. It makes sense. Sometimes he’d say something in the conversation and I would think I’d not heard him clearly. As he got older it became more commonplace. He had words and short forms and (I would guess) military codes that he would use and when I was a child if I didn’t understand him ….. well it wasn’t always pleasant. Is this what you mean as well by ideoglossia? Now that he is gone so many questions (I was a “why” kid) cannot be answered that weren’t answered in his life and I am still searching for answers to rest my past with him. He didn’t consider my doing art something worthy of any acknowledgment. My response has been to write and draw and come up with concepts for a very small show at our local Art Council mini gallery — The Mym Gallery (it’s the old back porch — about 8’x9′, including a doorway and 3 westerly windows).I have to be ready to set it up by Feb 23 for an 18 day run. I have found so much stuff sorting through his possessions for clearing up his Estate that they have become a depository for collage works and 3-D pieces. I am a shy artist, so speaking out about the “under the radar” verbal abuse ( to be blunt) I endured for most of my life is a big scary leap and challenge that I need to complete to go forward with my own reflective art. There is some intimidation about offending some people in the community who thought he was such a gentleman, and that can make me question what I am doing, yet I also know I have to get this cleaned out of my system to do future art. Thank you for listening. I really enjoy getting your Twice-weekly Letters. It gives me many other art-y things to think about.

     Featured Workshop: Patrice Federspiel
121311_robert-genn Patrice Federspiel Workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Rocky Mountain Spring

acrylic painting, 36 x 18 inches by Linda Jolly, AB, Canada

  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.    

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