imagine, create, share

imagine creation, create form, share in community

Changing the terms of Engagement

Untitled © Jennifer Neal 2017

Untitled © Jennifer Neal 2017

Here's a recent journal page done in watercolor. I'm a huge fan of non-representational art because creating it allows me to communicate a mood, or a feeling, or just a way of being in very loose and/or undefined terms. But I've found that a lot of people are uncomfortable or don't know what to do when faced with art like this. In a society super saturated in consumption, people aren't encouraged to determine the purposes or meanings of images for themselves. We are used to having our thoughts and emotions directed via mass media that ignores or manipulates our individuality and guides us to pre-determined conclusions.

But art like this invites the viewer to form open-ended individual responses. And that can be disorienting. How does one begin to make sense of something so void of direction? It begins with realizing that the artist is changing the terms of engagement rationally and relationally. There is no correct meaning or response. There is no direct message or sales pitch. No offering of tribal identity or exclusive belonging is pushed. There is only an invitation to understand the art as a kind of mirror that reveals whatever the viewer brings to it.

Sometimes art helps a person recognize and/or name feelings and thoughts they hadn't been able to define. That long brewing stress that you couldn't or wouldn't acknowledge? A work of art might be the thing that finally reflects your deeper self back to you in a way you can't resist and weren't expecting. Other times art serves to provide a beautiful and peaceful resting place that relieves us from figuring it all out, solving all our problems, or slaving away to the shoulds. A shared experience of beauty can unite people when other means of connection have been exhausted.

Of course there's a multitude of ways someone might respond to abstract art, or any art. The depth and quality of any response though will depend first on willingness to receive the art with intellectual and emotional openness and not demanding immediate whats and whys. The same thing might be said about our response to God, and can definitely be said about his response to us.