How to feast on art

Recently I watched a video from the New York Studio School YouTube channel of an art historian discussing the artist Pierre Bonnard. In the video she quotes something Bonnard reportedly told a young painter, and he said “the painting will not exist if the viewer does not do half the work.“  This of course has to do with the work (and joy) of looking and also by implication, a deeper seeing. The looking includes not only what it takes in order for the artist to do the work, but also includes the looking that it takes for the viewer to do.

Now, I thought that was quite interesting meaning the viewer does have to bring something to an artwork. Obviously the artwork isn’t going to just sit there and spell out what the painting is about, all by itself. So recently when talking with students in my art membership about looking at art and pointing out things we’re seeing, I read the quote above to them.

In our Facebook group students are posting reproductions of artwork and having conversations about them. One artwork in particular is a painting by Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room on the Garden, painted 1934-35 (Guggenheim Museum).  So incredibly beautiful, so incredibly Pierre Bonnard.

The comments range from how yellow is framing the blues, where yellows are repeated, noticing trees outside the window, how the figure of the woman blends into the background and almost not visible at first, and ending with a comment about the reflection of the window on the edge of the table. 

Then I commented on seeing a color gradation from the intense blue of the sky outside the window moving indoors to the reflection on the edge of the table, to the magenta on the tablecloth. As an afterthought I then noticed the reflection of the sky on the trivet in the lower left. This is Bonnard bringing the outdoors indoors, into a close intimacy and it feels as though he’s serving it all up to me, the viewer; leaving me to feel as though in the end, it’s a generous feast.


My Jumpstart Painting Essentials course is open for registration.


Please share with friends. 

Painting: Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room on the Garden, 1934-35. Guggenheim Museum. 

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