As a painter, the phrase ‘paint what you see, not what you think you see’ binds and cuffs my wrists until I ask ‘what do I think I see?’ As a writer the phrase ‘show don’t tell’ gags the creative synapses until binary thought is shattered and realization dawns.
Two simple phrases, both about presentation and communication; paint what you see and show don’t tell. In William Blake’s words, ‘we are led to believe a lie, when we see with and not through the eye (Auguries of Innocence) – it’s with these words in mind that I ask ‘what’s really there?’ and ‘how do I show it?’
It’s hard to get past a ‘thing’ in your brain, a thought pattern, something you think you see clearly. Am I fooling myself? I know circles are round, but are they? Yes that thing is 3D, but should it be? Do I need to spell out the plot, fill in the background and give over all imagination? Or could I leave it to the reader to fll btwn th lns? Our brain craves completion and enjoys doing the work, we don’t want to be told everything, we want to discover some things for ourselves. So this is where writing and painting work together – orientation, scene setting, characters, POV – all in the eyes of the beholder.
An avid motorcyclist, I knew my Yamaha Virago inside out – her curves and shapes, the shiny bits and bits she liked to hide. The artistic study began and I asked over and over, ‘what do I see?’ Do I see a perfect machine, with mechanisms, chrome, shapes and mechanical functions? Yes and no. I also see freedom, danger, speed, exhilaration, friendship, reliability, laughter and memories. This is my dilemma with ‘paint what you see’, because literally I see an amazing feat of human ingenuity; a vehicle. But what I think I see is what it represents to me, William Blake helped me understand that, so that is what I painted.
These Yamaha studies aren’t true to form, but they make me smile because the backgrounds are all the places she’s been, pixelated into one. The engine is all the dirt she’s gathered and washed off too, and the paintwork can be anything. That’s the beauty of art. Paint what you see and show how you feel.
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