As I was walking through a painting gallery over the weekend, a friend asked me if I had a favorite artist. It’s not a question that brings an easy answer. It would be almost as hard for me to tell you my favorite color, though I may come up with one. I don’t generally see the world in this way. I think there are so many elements in the world, so many paintings, so much music, so many colors that they come and go each making some impact on us and then fading away or becoming a more significant bulding block in who we are and the way we see things. Sometimes the way we see things at first leaves one impression and then with further contemplation, something completely different. The perception can change with time. The immediate perception itself doesn’t change, however. What changes is our perception of the immediate perception. Our perception morphs from that immediate perception into something else, a perception that includes that immediate impression and everything we’ve thought about it since and what together it means to us at any given moment.
So I have described the immediate perception, and at any moment the current perception. A third element to our impression of a painting is our memory of that perception, which can vary from an immediate perception as much as any memory can vary from the actual event. What we think about the immediate perception differs from a memory in that we are not necessarily thinking about a memory.
I wasn’t thinking about this all at once when I, after a few moments of pause, gave my answer of George Inness. Yet in pondering my answer, I think this is what I like most about Inness– that sense of an immediate impression, perception or perhaps the most accurate word would be feeling. To me, many of the works by Inness provide this sense of how we feel about something the first time we see it. Not the thing itself, but that feeling of what it is that we get even before we look at it completely. As soon as we look at it completetely we destroy it. Its almost as if we have to be walking one way, turn our head quickly, breathe in and then shut our eyes. We let the world with a breathe in and then hold it in our breasts to be forever not what it is, but what it is to us. That’s George Inness.
The other type of Inness painting I think is the ones that seem to depict memory, and sometimes a memory of that first feeling we had when we set our sites on a place in time. The specifics don’t matter the way they seem to in a Dali, in fact if they are there in our memories, they aren’t what they were physically anyway. It’s our minds that can see the world somewhat, but not entirely independent of what exists. It’s our memories that keep it in existence long after that fleeting moment in time has passed.
These feelings, first impressions and the memories of them would have been lost to eternity had they not been painted by Inness. More, they seem to let us inside Inness himself and enter our phsyche almost as if it was an impression on our mind or a memory therein.
Inness himself may have recognized the changing nature of impressions and images in our minds. As an image enters our mind covering over or somehow changing another memory or idea, so Inness enjoyed most painting not on a blank canvas, but on other work. He is also said to have never considered a painting finished and always reserved the right to rework it even after it had sold, almost as if the paintings were a recording of his changing idea of an impression on canvas.
So my answer for now is George Inness.
Images: Close up from work at Toledo Museum of Art (top) Close up from work at Buteler Museum of American Art (bottom)