Artistic creation is not mere decoration. The artist has to convey his inspiration to others while allowing them freedom of interpretation. (Liu Chun-Hau)
I’ve been smitten with this painting since the day he brought it home. So much so, that an attachment formed, a relationship if you may, between the characters in the portrait and myself. The vivid colors, the loose, whimsical way in which the water color was applied adds to the charm. It’s now embraced by a hand-me-down matte from a discarded picture, always propped up in my study, never fully dressed with the frame it so rightfully deserves. Nonetheless, always in my view, always admired; I stare at it and appreciate its innocent, unassuming beauty. I’ve even gone so far as to pose some names for them. By them, I mean the adorable, ginger-colored, mischevious cat crouching in the center of the painting and, what I believed to be a bird, perched, coy and taunting as if saying, “…and what are you going to do now? Eat me?” The ‘bird’ is captured from behind, looking up at the cat. I can’t see the bird’s face, only the back of his head and the ruffled plume feathers of his tail, pointing in a downward direction.
The painting has remained in my study for years and has brought many a smile to my face while I stare and think of the artist who created this perfect image to aid in my mind’s escape.
Recently, I wanted to duplicate, without scanning, the painting, for I did not have a scanner with a large enough scan bed. So, I took my pens and markers and meticulously copied a smaller, scaled version of the piece. I added shadows and other details. Excited, I showed my copied original to my son, the artist who created it. And that’s when it happened. My imaginary world with cat and bird was about to unravel. Yes, this misinterpretation and deceit was self-imposed. I have gone on for over seven years now believing my ‘friends’ to be a cat and bird without ever asking the artist his thoughts and story behind his creation. The characters, their story and his inspiration was lost on me. I failed to ask. He has seen this picture for so long in my study and knew the affection I had for it.
“Mom,” he said. “What’s that at the top, here.” He says, pointing to the top of my bird’s head. I had added a beak, in an upright position, to emphasize the cocking of its head towards the cat.
“That’s his beak. I wanted to make him look upwards.”
“He’s an octopus, not a bird. See, here are his tentacles.” Like a teacher, he gingerly points to the appendages at the bottom of the body.
“Huh? Oh, I see.” It takes me a nanosecond to realize they weren’t tail feathers.
“I named him Charlie. And the cat is Harry. They’re best friends and they were posing for this picture. See, here are Charlie’s eyes.” And he points to the eyes, and just below the eyes, there was a mouth, on the face of Charlie the octopus.
“Why is he frowning?” I ask.
“Well, on that day, he didn’t want his picture taken. Just like me, Mom. You know I never liked having to take my picture. Charlie is a lot like me.”
Ah, his inspiration. I saw it all clearly now. The arrogance I showed by interpreting the art on my own, even adding my own details, brought on a sense of shame.
And, true, for the minute required to sit still and stop his active mind and body, my son made it a point to never smile in a photo. He was just too busy for such nonsense and believed his defiance, one day, would stop the unnecessary interruption.
“Will you forgive me for the freedom I took in interpreting your art?”
“Mom, you’re the one that taught me that there are many ways to see and interpret the world. Doesn’t the same hold true for art?” He shoves his hands into his pocket.
“Yes, Graham. So true. Thanks for the reminder.”
Our efforts are not lost on our children.