Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Value of the Whisper In Art

A strange concept you might think... when reading the title for this post. None the less... I believe the concept worth reading further... and worth considering when creating your own works.

We live in a society that seems to worship cacophony. Where the act of "making noise" is considered a necessary tool to draw attention to one's self or their endeavours. Worth is determined and measured in decibels it seems. Cars, boats, snow machines push the decibel levels to uncomfortable... even potentially dangerous levels for the human ear.

Sound levels in theaters... "music"... television...  sporting events and especially the gaming world of our children have reached intolerable levels of constant noise. And we seem oblivious to its presence... in all parts of our lives.

Strange... how at a certain level of awareness... we value solitude and quiet and we pay particular attention to those individuals who can effect absolutely astonishing changes in animal behaviour through "whispering" - the use of the whisper as a therapeutic tool. ie The Dog Whisperer... The Horse Whisperer, etc. Why then... do we not recognize that that same device might actually be a tool for the artist to employ in creating appeal for their work?

I wonder...

What is a "whisper" in art... and what is its intrinsic value to the overall process?

I choose to apply the word "whisper" into reference to planning composition and design... and the application of paint. So many of the paintings we make attempt to capture the eye solely through boldness of colour and dynamic line. While these are indeed necessary ingredients to grab your viewer's attention... they can be overly used and over stated to actually confuse the visual senses. Many of the attempts at "abstraction-ism" that I have seen on line lately simply overwhelm me... and leave me shaking my head as to the purpose of the work.. except to relieve tedium and boredom with painting in general.

A "whisper" as I see it... is a strategically selected place in a painting where the viewer's eye can simply rest. A place where the viewer can contemplate a change in the path of viewing. Such a precisely planned and laid passage in music is simply called... a rest. As well as indeed providing the listener a rest... this interlude creates a dramatic, but comfortable tension between the area of pause itself and the surrounding action and intended direction. This makes it an effective creative device.

Lost and found edges and the use of adjacently placed complementaries as devices suggest intent... without spelling out every detail. The skillful and careful use toned grounds on painting supports uses the underlying tone to act as a colour guide to neurologically "pull" or lead the eye around the painting surface on a seemingly random viewing adventure. But its use or presence within the painting is intended... though mutely so. Therein lies its magic.and its ability to capture and hold the viewer's attention.

"The Spruce Pointers" is a 16x20 inch plein air canvas painted on an acrylic burnt sienna ground. If you search around the entire painting surface you will ideed find many"rests"... intentionally retained areas where the ground colour remains and helps create a warm tonal harmony with the selection of varied earth tones which make up my limited palette.

"January Thaw" is an oil painting on a matte black acrylic toned wooden panel. It is a subject directly in front of our home and was painted exactly one year ago... totally en plein air in one go. The value and presence of lost and found edges can readily be seen in this work. What is more important though. is that the limited palette of colour edudes warmth and pleasing colour harmony between the bluish purples and warm rose-oranges.

It totally represents the picture of a typical mid-January Day on the Saint Lawrence River. This is why I have no difficulty donning my plein clothing to head out headlong into winter to paint whatever is there. Nothing is imagined... it is perhaps... borrowing a recent newspaper heading from the Toronto Star... an impressionistic painting containing my "imprecise truths, [but] inspired by reality."

What is a "whisper"... in reference to life?

The "appropriate" use of the whisper is well ingrained in us as children early in our lives. We are taught that there exist specific places where only a whisper can be used. Why? The underlying tell-tale evidence for its socially accepted use in churches... libraries... funeral homes and services... public lectures... schoolrooms... theater performances to name but a few is quite evident. The whisper is a gesture of respect for those others gathered for a specific event... and the whisper a prescribed gesture and action designed not to interrupt

Traditions that we celebrate in our family lives indeed reflect remaining and deeply embedded whispers of the teachings we received from our parents. They speak softy to us during the remainder of our lives. Memories are gentle whisper as well... reminders of important places, events and people in our lves

As human beings living in this too noisy chaotic society we can become numb to the "possibility" and the presence of beauty which surrounds us. As artists and painters we cloister ourselves in places we call studios - places where we can find quiet, or at least some degree of control over the din from outside. Some of us chain ourselves to easels and seek inspiration from digital references we either collect ourselves... or... draw from on line libraries. The wonder we wish to share through our paintings is first interpreted from a screen or monitor... then reinterpreted to our canvas with our brushes and pigment.

In closing off this New Year's Day sharing from me I would share with you on yet one more occasion... one more strategy for your own tool box. While I do indeed paint in a studio... I do so quite unwillingly and with a feeling of constriction. I total enjoy... and choose to be outdoors throughout all seasons. The Natural World has always been (since early childhood) my playground... my classroom and my spiritual cathedral. It is here ... where I feel a sense of complete freedom... to think... to learn... to act... to play... and to create.

" He leadeth me beside still waters... it restoreth my soul."

Many of my sketches and paintings are created totally en plein air.Some are developed in the studio at a later date into a larger format/scale painting to extend an idea or an experience that I feel I have more to say about. On other occasions my plein air trek becomes just walk to either enjoy an area simply for its beauty... or to record scenes digitally for future reference ... if I shall not be able to return.

I would like to offer you with one thought and a question to contemplate during 2015. The first is derived from a Russian tradition, while the second is derived from a 15th Century Japanese school of Zen Buddhism meditation and thought. Perhaps they may advance you... as they have "Me"... since they were first posed to "Me" many years ago now in a sociology course at Queen's University. They have directed and advanced my personal and artistic growth and development immensely since that time.

"The fall of a leaf is a whisper to the living." (Russian proverb)

The second thought is an example of a "koan". A koan in Zen philosophy, is a story, dialogue, or question to create great doubt at first. Contemplation can lead to enlightenment. Here is my question passed to you to think about. 

Everyone has heard the sound of two hands clapping. But have you....?????

Heard the sound of one hand clapping?

I have... and with that knowledge I now understand how to travel beyond the din and noise of every day life. Give it some further thought if you wish. I would dearly enjoy hearing what you "read" in either... or both of these meditations on life.

"I". and greatly blessed... and have finally found Peace for my once greatly troubled soul.

I wish to thank all of your who have supported my journey and this blog in past years. I wish  each of you...

Good Painting... Rich Blessings of Health... Prosperity and Peace... to ALL in 2015!!!

PS Here are some things "old" which I think speak to "art whispering"... as I described it above.will add something "new" ASAP

Stay tuned...


  1. Hello Bruce, I do miss posting on my blog and also visiting my friends here in blogging land. I will try and keep up with it this year! I do come in quietly and spend time here and often read your posts which are always insightful and with a message of peace. I remember the painting of yours ' January thaw' imagine how quickly time has flown by since you painted it a whole year away! I like the painting with the warm tones with the winter trees, very nice. I wish you lots of happy painting days ahead and hope the winter weather won't be too harsh to stop you venturing outdoors. Happy New Year laddie!

  2. Hi Bruce, I can certainly identify with the first thought: there is something wonderful about being in quiet woodland and hearing leaves falling, seed-heads popping, and all the other natural sounds. It's a meditative experience.

    All the best,

  3. Happy New Year Lass!... The weather has been purely nasty over the past few days in these parts. A nasty ice storm and freezing rain locked everything down for a few days... making travel even out of the village... impossible! But that has lifted ... as a "High"... cold front has moved in along with frigid Arctic temperatures. Fireplace weather! HA HA!!!

    Hope to read more posts and see more of your lovely work whenever you can come on line!

    Wishing you blessings of Good Painting...Good Health and Happiness in 2015!

    Warmest regards,

  4. Happy New Year Keith! ... I knew that "You"... above all of my on line Friends... would "get the drift" about what I was getting at in the post!

    Nature fills up the senses... all of them simultaneously when you commune with her intimately! We both understand that... and I believe that it shows up in our work!

    Good Painting and rich blessings in 2015 Keith!

    Talk soon!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. As I go further along the path of my own art journey, I find myself valuing the warmth of solitude, the mystery of nuance, the subtlety of color harmony. As you have described in your words, the whisper is much more powerful than the shout. Thank you for a valuable post and a great beginning to 2015.

  6. Hi there Susan!.. Sharing ideas and thoughts whether in paint or words is a valuable creative tool for all artists to use and embrace. The studio can be an isolating and lonely place which can be detrimental to growth and development as an artist... and person.

    I certainly share many of your principles and beliefs... and your strong focus and interest in thinking and working "outside of the box."

    I much enjoy your site and look forward to further sharing.

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting constructively... positively and encouragingly!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,