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It has been hot in Seattle this week. We went strawberry picking in the blazing sun and rewarded ourselves with frozen strawberry smoothies and cool dishes of strawberries and cream.

Another way I’ve been keeping cool is reading (and listening to audiobooks) in a cool spot with the fan blowing over me.

I’m almost finished listening to Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. Generally I reserve commenting on a book until I’ve finished it, but this one has me thinking about something that relates to making art.


The structure of this book is complex and is handled skillfully. The story opens with main characters who are teenagers at an artsy summer camp and the book follows their stories across their lives through middle age. But it’s not told in a purely linear fashion. Wolitzer takes you in and out of the past, present and future while all the time maintaining consistent threads of plot and character development.

This got me thinking about how we express comparable issues in painting (and printmaking). Obviously a painting expresses all of its content at once instead of unfolding over the many pages of a novel. It doesn’t have a beginning, an ending or chapters. At the same time, however, pieces of a painting’s content can reveal themselves bit by bit, can’t they, as we revisit it over time?

Siri Hustvedt has a wonderful essay in her book, Mysteries of the Rectangle, in which she describes looking at a painting (Giorgione, The Tempest) she has studied over the years and seeing a figure in the painting she doesn’t remember seeing before.

Giorgione's The Tempest

Giorgione’s The Tempest

Over time her experience (and memory) of looking at that painting changed. So it’s not the painting, but the viewer who changes over time. And this in turn changes the experience of the painting. It becomes something different.

The content of a painting can express past, present or future or even all of these at once. Is there a way we can structure our work as artists to guide the viewers’ experience as Meg Wolitzer guides her readers? How can I paint something so that a chronology or evolution or growth experience is conveyed to the viewer?

This is what I’m thinking about this week as the sweat trickles down my back and I eat the last of the beautiful strawberries.

What do you think about these ideas of time and structure in art? Is it a topic you consider interesting and worth thinking about?

Please share in the comments. And stay cool!