Sunday thoughts

Once a summer I head out to South Dakota to paint with a group of artists who live and work in the upper midwest. We have a super week and lots of laughter and painting. Our community is re-established after a year long absence.

Two summers ago Jerry Brommer led a workshop on watercolor painting. It was probably one of the best workshops I had ever attended. Yes, it was about painting but even more so it was about the power of story. I am not sure how old Jerry is (80?) but whatever his age we all grew personally as he shared his wisdom through a life’s worth of rich stories.

Jerry has written many books on painting and recorded almost as many videos. There probably is not an art classroom or school library that does not have his books or videos. It was a perfect time to ask him “of the books you have written which book did you like the best?” His reply was, Emotional Content: How to create paintings that communicate. Out of print, we all scrambled to find a used copy on Amazon.

I revisit this book often. How to create art, not to paint pictures. That simple phrase is a lifetime of learning. Jerry defines content as not being the subject or things in the painting. Content is the communication of ideas, feelings and reactions connected with the subject. It is emotional content. When we look at a painting, the content is what is sensed rather than what can be analyzed. To quote Jerry, “It is the ultimate reason for creating art.”

The visual adjectives that Jerry uses are “describe”, “what is said”, “what we relate”’ “tell others” To him, these all imply communication-visual communication which is a concise definition of art.

I leave you with this example from his book,

The subject of a painting might be a barn as seen from a field. If I say, “I see a barn near a field”, I have told you nothing. Every person who hears me would envision a different barn and field. But if I say, “I see a huge gray barn,” you are already seeing it more like I see it. If I add, “with a large faded Pepsi-Cola sign on one side, a decrepit roof that sags from old age, splintered boards and shingles-some of which are missing and large doors that hang askew from rusted hinges” you will see and feel almost the same barn I am seeing as I am describing it.

Content is the reason for making a painting. It answers the question, “Why do I want to paint this subject?” The answer is the emotional content, “I want to paint this painting because…”