Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Alexie, Art, Arbitrary Ambiguity, and Absolutes

I draw because words are too unpredictable.
I draw because words are too limited.
If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese,
or any other language,
then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.
But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.
If I draw a cartoon of a flower,
then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it
and say, "That's a flower."
So, I draw because I want to talk to the world.
~Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

That quote is in the first chapter of Alexie's book. I was hooked. Of course. It made such perfect sense. It explained everything I feel about making art. However, even though I make art to speak to people where my words fail me, I also like to add an element of what I call Arbitrary Ambiguity to my pieces.

arbitrary: -adjective; subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion
ambiguity: -noun; doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention

Translation: I like to throw a little confusion into the mix. I like to leave some things open to individual interpretation. It's what makes art fun and it allows me to keep my own secret language. Some things are meant to be whispered, not said aloud to a room full of people.

I once painted a picture that was basically just a collection of random images in my head. A friend wrote me two paragraphs on what it meant to her and how it spoke to her. I thought, "Huh, I just needed to paint some stuff. I didn't mean anything by it." Naturally, I wasn't so heartless as to say that to her. In fact, I was quite fascinated that the piece had said so much to her, and in truth could see where she was coming from.

I can't make art if I start thinking about how someone is going to view it and think about it. This is why it's such a nifty creative balance to writing. Writing is all about absolutes. Most of the time. Writing, at least for me, is all about wanting people to feel a certain way, wanting to shake up certain sensibilities.

Writing holds up a mirror. Art opens a window.

And I don't know anyone who doesn't like to look out a window...


  1. I read that book and loved it. I'm surprised I don't remember that quote. Looking at it now, it is so powerful and true. Also, love yours about writing holding a mirror! Very,very true.

  2. I spend a lot of time looking out of windows. It is often a challenge to write about a picture; I always have to choose one drawn by someone else because mine are so awful.

  3. Nia, that book has so many wonderful quotes in it, and it's such a fabulous read!

    Bob, I'm not sure I could write about my own art if I tried. Awful is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. Another book I need to read! Love your art!

  5. Love, love, LOVE that last bit - "Writing holds up a mirror. Art opens a window."

    Looking forward to reading more from you. I'm stopping by on the A to Z hop. Hope you will have a moment to stop by my "house" too.

    Lana D.


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