Friday, February 25, 2011

Standing One's Ground in the Face of 'Cruelty'

My husband is an artist who likes to study and then ‘reproduce’ paintings by American Impressionist, John Singer Sargent**. He often takes liberties with the subject, though I knew Lady Playfair (ironic name) would require a whole lot of liberties. It's also worth mentioning that if Todd doesn’t care for the face, he substitutes one he likes.
Lady Playfair
Since we are both artists, he expects me to provide honest feedback as he goes along—as I expect from him when I’m painting. Although he selected this subject for the color and contrast, I was not fond of his choice—it reminded me too much of Halloween. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to see how he would address the dowdy matron’s figure. And address it he did—or shall I say, re-dress, starting with her foundation-wear…

As he often does when he copies a painting, he works the body first and leaves the face blank. In this case, that was good, but bad at the same time—I had nothing to focus on but her torso; specifically, the arms that hung from said torso. (Though the body itself did provided some animated discussion and amusement.)
Faceless Jackie
We stood in front of his easel, sipping pinot noir. In a calm rational manner, I said, “Oh! My! Gosh! Look at the length of that arm! What’s the matter with her? Are you trying to make her look like the result of interbreeding? Oh, that simply won’t do—you need to fix that right away!”

“The arm is fine!” Todd insisted, though I think even he could see that the original looked long. He justified his stance. “Singer Sargent tends to elongate.” He refused to change the glaring problem, and all I could focus on was “Jack-O-Lantern Woman's” freakishly long arm.

Yes, it’s true, every time I looked at her, I brought the offending arm to Todd’s attention. “Well, leave it that way if you must, but you are surely not going to hang that freak on our wall!”

Yes, I was ‘cruel…But fair,’* as he and I often say….

Then, one night, he didn’t come to bed for hours and hours…He must be doing that ‘cosmetic surgery’, I thought, feeling all smug and satisfied. When I woke the next morning, I didn’t even notice the arm—he had painted a face on Jackie-Lantern… "Oh. My. Goodness!—she’s perfect!”

Yes, I still see the arm, but when I look at the painting, all I really notice is her beautiful face. She’s amazing to me!

Jackie Lantern
Moral of the story: Even under the most brutal of criticism, keep forging ahead—something wonderful may happen!

Sometimes, the whole can make up for even a glaring flaw... 

*Monty Python, The Piranha Brothers

**There are some nice prints of John Singer Sargent's work here.


  1. I definitely prefer your husband's version. She looks like she has a great personality. Someone you'd have a lot of fun with. It looks like she's dying to make a witty comment.

    Not so for the original.

  2. She does have that wry look about her, doesn't she, Stina. I think it's likely that she and my husband exchanged quite a bit of witty repartee as he brought her to life.

    Poor Lady Playfair--if only she'd had half as much fun...

  3. I am truely "double amazed". Todd is a master at art also.

  4. Wait, wait. Is it me or does she have the same look in her eye as YOU? (it would kind of seem so in your thumbprint picture)

    In which case, you are the new owner of a freakishly long arm???

  5. Glenn, Yes, well, it's true, Todd is pretty clever that way. And for the record he has NEVER been as 'cruel' about my artwork--he is far more diplomatic :)

    Lydia. Lol! I was wondering if anyone might think it is me...

    Actually, he has painted my face on quite a few, but this one was from his own imagination. I think she's a little more Mediterranean than Swedish. If there is anything 'freakish' about me, Todd says it's my strength, lol...

  6. I thought it was you, too. Especially since the close-up of her face is just about right beside yours in the side bar. It's easy to make that comparison, and does have your resemblance!

  7. Joanne, Perhaps the resemblance is in her expression...perhaps it's a subliminal thing and Todd's just getting back at me--giving me a freakish arm--for my 'cruel but fair' remarks!

  8. Well, just to be fair, her arm hangs about mid-thigh, and just for fun, I stood up and measured mine and comes about mid-thigh too. So it's not really freakishly long, but it does look so in the painting. Maybe because of all the black.

    Jackie Lantern looks to me like she's hiding a really big secret, and is loving every minute of it. smug look of hah-ha-ha-haha-ha.

  9. Anne, Lol, That’s exactly what my husband says!

    To me, when I look at her it seems as if her fingertips land lower thigh, not mid—which supports the premise that it’s all rather subjective…And, if someone points out the flaw, everyone will zoom in on that, unless there is something worthwhile to focus on in the end!

  10. I don't know about the arm but at first I thought the face might be you...but then I decided that she resembles Catherine Zeta Jones. Yup, she has a secret, and it's funny.

  11. Liza, I think you're right about a secret--she's definitely up to something...

    ...I think she'd make a good character for a story...

  12. I'm with Lydia, I thought it was you too! :) I definitely see a bit of resemblance.

  13. 'Nut', Jackie and I really don't look anything alike in real life--I suppose that a heavily shaded avatar works to my advantage in this case, lol!

  14. Or maybe the glaring flaw can make the whole perfect. But I know nothing about art, so please ignore me. :) Thanks for sharing (and your husband is quite talented!!).

  15. Susan, Thanks!
    I don't think you have to be an 'artist' to understand that the principles of 'completeness' and 'perfection' apply across the board in art and writing and any other creative work...and it is ALL subjective!

  16. Now that looks like a serial killer arm! *stab stab*

  17. Errika, I knew you'd see it my way! :)

  18. Since, like the Piranha brothers, you were "cruel... but fair," there's no way your husband's going to nail that picture on the wall. Instead he'll nail your head to the floor.

    (Or if you're lucky, he'll just screw your pelvis to a cake stand.)

    It's an excellent piece, though, in spite of the Elasti-Girl arm. You two certainly are a talented couple.

  19. hehehee, Nate, he did threaten to nail my head to the coffee table...

    In fact, Jackie Lantern sits on the wall adjacent my desk. Even now she stares with those eyes that follow me no matter where in the room I am...

    (and thanks for getting the Piranha Bros thing--had the feeling you would!)

  20. We have two writers in our house and we critique each other's work as well.

    Love the painting.
    And, I love the moral of your story!

  21. Paul, You and I are very fortunate to have such a trusted critic under our own roofs.

    I know every relationship between 'artist' and 'critic' differs, but when there is an implicit foundation of trust, it allows for a much broader range of honesty. I doubt I could ever be so 'brutal' with anyone but my dear Todd!

  22. Hahah, oh no, that's why it's so hard for me to let my husband comment when I paint. Although he's always right. He doesn't paint, but he has a flawless engineer's eye for proportion.

  23. Tara, I LOVE/HATE my husband's honest feedback! Though it does help to know that there is no one I trust more! I think we're both fortunate to have that objective eye looking over our shoulder :)

  24. Your husbands version is so much better -- and the subject actually has a figure. Kudos to him. Todd and Bridget -- a match made in artists heaven.

  25. Jerry, I think most men would prefer my husband's version!
    ...and yes, Todd & Bridget = Blissfully Happy! :)