Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Life Benefits of Deconstructing a Lemon.

When I graduated college and moved to California, I faced the challenge of furnishing my new apartment. Growing up, we had the television in our living room. I never inquired about its origins. Never analyzed it. I never thought about the qualities of a TV because I never had to. It was just there, purchased with money that wasn’t mine.

I had to buy a television for my new apartment. I walked into the big chain store and was confronted by a wall of twenty indistinguishable twenty-five inch televisions all playing the same benign show. I had to differentiate one from another even though they all seemed remarkably the same. I was forced to think of televisions as qualitative objects with pros and cons because I was now invested in the outcome. I deconstructed them. Pulled them apart. Dissected their specs. Prioritized features. Compared and contrasted. Asked myself questions. Acknowledged nuance and subtlety.

The scene repeated itself when I wandered over to an endless field of identical looking vacuums.

One of the things I love about painting? It forces me to view and understand everyday objects in new ways.

In my still-life class, I stared at the lemon. When you were a child learning colors, the teacher held up flash cards. Yellow was represented by a lemon. Orange was represented by, well… an orange. Now, when I was painting a lemon, I had to ask myself, “I know that it’s yellow, but what kind of yellow?” I used yellow for the base but found myself adding transparent maroon and ultramarine blue (Blue? Yes, blue).

In my life, I’d eaten watermelon a hundred times. I knew the inside was red, but I had to ask myself, “What kind of red?” I didn’t have a tube of paint labeled watermelon. I had to carefully observe, and then deduce and concoct the color from the fifteen orphaned gobs of paint scattered across my palette.

Watermelon Slices (Oil on canvas board, 12 x 9").

On my next trip to the farmers’ market, it will be difficult for me to encounter a pile of lemons and not analyze what I see. I will examine the subtle change in chroma as the lemon’s form rolls from light into shade.

I like this.

It’s easy to dismiss art. Say that it’s irrelevant. A waste of time. Boring. I understand that people feel this way (although I think they’re wrong). In my life, I tend to take things at face value. I don’t extrapolate. But I’ll say this: Art changed the way I see things. I appreciate subtleties I would have otherwise missed. It makes my life richer. It's a new way of seeing.

It’s the difference between riding on a train through the French countryside with your eyes looking out the window, or tilted down towards your feet.

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