I think of the artist as a kind of magician. I don’t mean the ‘here’s a holy relic that will heal you’ or turning you into a newt sort of magician with magical powers. Rather, an artist is like the sleight-of-hand magician who says ‘First it is an apple’ and then – POOF! – ‘Now I hold a bouquet of flowers!’ Done well, there is no doubt that the apple has been replaced instantaneously by the bouquet of flowers that has appeared in their hand.
And you think ‘surely, there’s a trick to it.’ There’s a string or a bit of fancy hand play that you didn’t notice.
It’s a trick but it leaves you with a little feeling of wonder because, for a moment, all your mind knows is that where there was an apple there is now a bouquet. While the trick itself may have no message or subtext, it jars us out of our ordinary reality.
Likewise, when we see a painting, we know it is just pigments suspended in some medium and those pigments have been smeared across the canvas this way and that.
But, done right, you forget all about the paint – even if you can see it in big daubs. You forget the canvas or the artist’s hand. You only experience a sensation inside yourself. It is, like the magician’s trick, merely a kind of sleight of hand.
Come along, says the artist, and feel Wonder! Or Grief! Or Joy! Or the crash of a wave, the sweep of a summer breeze. And… Voila!
And we know that is not wonder or grief or joy on the canvas. It is not a wave or a breeze. And yet…. And yet, if it’s done well, if the proverbial strings and work behind the scenes can’t be seen: there it is, in us now – a sensation of that thing. It jars us out of our ordinary waking reality reminding us that there is something more.
There is something magical to that shared communication of ineffable sensations – a magic to evoking sensations in another via sound or color, shapes and contours.