In search of ideoglossia

5

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.”

Startled (owl), 1984 sugarlift aquatint, printed in black ink on ivory wove paper 75.9 x 56.8 cm by Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)

Startled (owl), 1984
sugarlift aquatint, printed in black ink on ivory wove paper
75.9 x 56.8 cm
by Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)

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.

Head Studies, circa 1971 brush and black ink, wash, mounted on a scroll 175.8 x 83.0 cm by Brett Whiteley

Head Studies, circa 1971
brush and black ink, wash, mounted on a scroll
175.8 x 83.0 cm
by Brett Whiteley

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.

Best regards,

Robert,

Woman in Bath, 1963 (re-worked 1964) oil, paper, fabric collage, graphite and tempera on plywood 183.1 x 218.7 cm by Brett Whiteley

Woman in Bath, 1963
(re-worked 1964)
oil, paper, fabric collage, graphite and tempera on plywood
183.1 x 218.7 cm
by Brett Whiteley

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.

Coastal View (France), 1960 pen and brown ink, wash on ivory wove paper 27.8 x 37.8 cm by Brett Whiteley

Coastal View (France), 1960
pen and brown ink, wash on ivory wove paper
27.8 x 37.8 cm
by Brett Whiteley

This letter was originally published as “In search of ideoglossia” on December 9, 2011.

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“Art is the thrilling spark that beats death – that’s all.” (Brett Whiteley)

 

 

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