Notice What You Notice

“Tune Up” (Miles Davis)*
copyright, 2021, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic and ink on gallery-wrapped canvas
28 x 22

Abstract expressionist artists so often have a hard time explaining what they do when they’re asked the larger-than-large questions: What’s it about? or What does it mean? Or why did you call it that?

We have little to anchor our work back to whatever reality exists (I’m a skeptic about reality), and we work in a more or less constant state of mystery. Sometimes the mystery solves itself, but more often we’re on our own when it comes to understanding our choices.

I didn’t have a chance to interview Jackson Pollock, but I know one thing he said about his drip paintings: “I don’t work from drawings. I don’t make sketches and drawings and color sketches into a final painting.” Pollock made it up as he went along.

By the same token, jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke once said, “One of the things I like about Jazz, kid, is I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?”

The “que sera sera” attitude goes a long way toward explaining abstract expressionism, but my old friends Bayles & Orland offer something of an anchor for us all no matter what route we choose – abstract expressionist, realist, impressionist – in Art & Fear with this…

To see things is to enhance your sense of wonder both for the singular pattern of your own experience, and for the meta-patterns that shape all experience. All this suggests a useful working approach to making art: notice the objects you notice. (e.g. Read that sentence again.)”

Noticing. How often we experience things but notice almost nothing. The world rushes at us and past us in a blur with scarcely time to notice anything at all. I mean to seriously notice.

But how can we expect to paint something that we can’t even notice? Artist, teacher and writer Frederick Franck gave us this simple example:

Everyone thinks he knows what a lettuce looks like. But start to draw one and you realize the anomaly of having lived with lettuces all your life but never having seen one, never having seen the semi-translucent leaves curling in their own lettuce way, never having noticed what makes a lettuce a lettuce rather than a curly kale.

Your salad will never be the same again.

The objects we notice are the things that work for us as artists. The details, the colors, the fine distinctions between this thing and that. Whether we’re painting portraits or landscapes or abstract expressionist colors of music, it is the things we notice that make the difference.

I notice jazz. I notice the sounds of Bill Evans and Horace Silver and Miles Davis. I notice the New Orleans improvisations of Kermit Ruffin, and I notice the catch in the throat of Billie Holiday on everything she sings. I notice the sensual opening notes of John Coltrane on “I Want to Talk About You,” and I notice the sunny, sleepy drift of Stan Getz on “The Girl from Ipanema.” I notice Sarah Vaughan’s swingy riffs when she sings “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” I notice the way John Stowell cradles his guitar and the way Nancy Curtin dances when she sings.

I notice jazz.

Of all the tools an artist can use, noticing is one that can’t be bought, ordered online or stolen. Noticing costs nothing but offers a great return.

Whatever work you’re doing, whatever life you’re living, notice what you notice.

*Miles Davis – Tune Up – YouTube

6 thoughts on “Notice What You Notice

  1. Janice…your imagination is rich…don’t ever forget to use it…I still recall your essays…and the rich stories of your life…

  2. What I noticed in this wonderful blog is that we are limited and forget to use our imagination. We’ll said. always.

  3. East of the Sun is all acrylic, but Night in Tunisia has some ink. I like the combination and use it fairly often. The ink is acrylic, too, but is applied with a dropper. Interesting things happen…

    Thanks for following…

    See you soon.

  4. Acrylic and ink…is that what you’ve been using all along, or is the ink something new? Liking your colors!

  5. Really nice piece sweetheart to really see the objects you notice really is kind of an eye opener for me especially when it comes to getting a better insight to who the artist really is and why.
    In fact l am going to have to write some of this stuff down for future reference.
    Nice work baby

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