Painting minimalist landscapes requires me to make many choices. Will I use small amounts of paint finely applied with a small brush, or will I texturize heavily with a palette knife loaded with paint? On the surface, this decision will impact the graphic quality of the overall painting, but it will also affect the viewer on a much deeper, more intimate, and perhaps unexplainable way. How will the painting make the viewer feel? It is my hope as an artist to take the viewer where I have been within the work, offering a window out onto a plain, a mountain, a valley, or, as often is my choice, a waterscape.
Whether I paint a waterscape or landscape, and whether it is real or imagined, also shapes many of my decisions when I apply paint to canvas. The choice of medium can heighten transparency and affect layering quality. In contrast to oil paint, acrylic paint allows the artist to apply layers heavily and quickly because of its rapid drying time. Acrylic paint can thus foster a sense of urgency and heighten the minimalistic qualities of a subject. On the other hand, the plasticity of oils, which dry slowly, can offer me enough sense of calm to walk away from the canvas and see the painting in a new way when I return, perhaps heightening the entire creative thought process. Will looking deep within a blank canvas, perhaps for days or weeks at time, or perhaps for only seconds just before applying the first base coat and colors, change the outcome? And, ultimately, will I, halfway through the work, determine that, even though I hate the current state, I see a glimmer of luminosity of the completed canvas?
As a clinical speech-language pathologist working with aphasic patients, I am familiar with this decision-making dilemma. How does an aphasic patient communicate when comprehension and expression have become impaired? Through auditory comprehension tasks, such as matching objects, following directions, answering yes/no questions, or completing object (noun) and action (verb) identification tasks, I strive to help my patients unlock the doors to comprehension of the spoken or printed word or visual image. When I experience an aphasic patient begin to intone approval or disdain in response to a yes/no question or, perhaps, a certain food item, I know that auditory comprehension is beginning to reemerge, even though the patient is so far unable to generate a real word. The patient is utilizing remaining skills to generate a new mode of interaction.
When I create a painting, I hope that the image I generate will spur some kind of responsive comprehension and expression. Because we all have different memories associated with images—a landscape, for example—can I expect any person to “see” what I see or “say” what I would say in response to viewing it? My immediate response is no. However, if a patient responds appropriately in a mode such as inflected voice, or says “tall” when seeing an image of a waterfall, then my responsibility as the listener or other half of the communication circle is to take that response in and process it in relation to and independently of my own preconceived ideas of what the ideal target response might be (such as the word “waterfall”). We members of the medical team now begin to view this patient’s communication skills not as alternatives but as his or her own novel receptive and expressive language patterns—patterns we all have but do not fully understand or use.