Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Dog, Dementia, and Directions

I've posted before about my dog.  She's a sweet little Shih Tzu who's going on 16 years old.  For the past year or so, dementia has gradually been taking hold in her little brain.  She's not gone, not yet, but the dementia is slowly taking her capabilities.  One of them is her sense of direction.

Now, Soozzee has never been much of an outdoor dog.  She's always been a bed potato.  That's like a couch potato, only her happy place is our bed.  Walks are not something she looks forward to.  From middle-age on, she got more and more resistant to heading out.  Dragging her along on her leash wasn't fun for either of us.  So we got a dog stroller.  I put her in the stroller for the outbound trip, take her out to the farthest point, put her on the ground, and she will trot, or even run, back home.  And it got to where she seems to enjoy the outbound trip.  She'll stand there, looking forward, sniffing the air, taking it all in.  Then at some point she'll say "enough", and turn around in the stroller and start pawing at the back.  Time to head home, Dad.

Lately, though, dementia seems to be hitting her internal GPS.  After a stop to do her business, or just sniff, or whatever, she'll forget which way is home.  She'll look both ways and then head out in the wrong direction.  I'll turn her around, and she'll say "nope, home is THIS way", and head off in the wrong direction again.  This will happen over and over.  "C'mon, Soozzee, home is THAT way."  "No, Dad, it's THIS way."  "Soozzee, it's THAT way."  "No, THIS way."  Aaarrggh.

But I found a trick.  I put her back in the stroller and turn her around a couple of spins one way, then a spin the other way.  That seems to hit the reboot button on her inner GPS.  Then I head away from home for maybe 10-15 feet.  That's like the outbound leg for her, so when I put her down again, she heads off in the correct direction.  At a trot, tail up, heading for home.

Does it work all the time?  No.  But it usually does.  And sometimes I have to do it two or three times on a walk.  But a Dad's gotta do what a Dad's gotta do.

It's sad to see her slowly going downhill.  Her diminished capabilities mean that our social lives are very limited - we rarely get to go out to dinner, don't go to movies together anymore, and don't take trips.  Soozzee gets really stressed when she's left alone in the house now, and somebody has to be around to watch her when she wanders, or be there to give her her meds, or take her on the walks.  Sometimes she's a pain in the butt, sometimes she's funny, and sometimes she's frustrating.  But this old dog has earned every bit of consideration we can give her.  And I'm just happy she's still with us.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Different Meanings in Artworks

Ever noticed that different people see different things in artworks?  One person will look at a painting and see something very peaceful, while the next person will wonder what demons are eating at the artist.  What's worse is when a critic writes a review that pontificates on the artwork's meaning and you've got no clue where this critic, who supposedly is enlightened, comes up with that interpretation.  And the worst thing is when said critic says that his/her meaning is the only one there is, leaving you and your very different interpretation out in the cold.

The truth is that we all come to an artwork with our own biases, likes, dislikes, viewpoints, personal histories, experiences, random mood of the day, and all the other baggage that goes along with being human.  So we all will react differently to the same piece of art.  While it's true that some people will be able to make more educated guesses at what the artist might have meant, or some people may be able to better identify which artworks are of higher quality than others, it's still true that each individual's experience of an artwork is unique to them.  As an artist, I can't control how you respond to something I painted.  I can only do my best to put my own intentions on canvas.  After that, the artwork is on its own, and you will see what you will see.

This hit home to me many years ago.  I was a continuing-education student at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.  This was a place where even the continuing-ed students were very serious about their work.  Our painting instructor gave us an assignment of doing a still life at home.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  So I went home and got to work.  My approach was to put a bunch of stuff into a pile and start re-arranging, tossing things out, and simplifying, until I got to something that was visually interesting.  Then I slung some paint.  Here's the result:

I was a Navy officer at the time, so that was my cover ("hat" in civilianese).  The teddy bear was mine from when I was one or two years old.  I liked the fact that there was a strong black/white contrast with interesting yellow shapes, all very harsh compared to the soft texture and color of the teddy bear.  Mission accomplished - there was the homework still life painting.

In the next class, the instructor had us critique each other's work.  When they got to mine, nobody said a word about the "strong black/white contrast with interesting yellow shapes, all very harsh compared to the soft texture and color of the teddy bear."  Instead, I heard a backstory about how the father had gone off to war and left a child at home, and the father wasn't coming back and the child was going to grow up without a dad, and this was one of the saddest paintings ever made.

Say what?

I could see that trying to explain what I'd been thinking about when putting the painting together didn't matter one iota to the people looking at it.  They created a much more interesting story than I ever could, and who am I to mess with that?  Since then, I don't worry too much about what others might see in a work.  In fact, when I do an artist talk, I try to get the audience to tell me what they see in the work.  Depending on the responses, they may never hear my own thoughts.  The only time it concerns me is when the predominate opinions are way off the mark from my own intention, which means my execution didn't match my intention.  I've learned a lot about my own works from hearing what people say about them.

Going back to the sample painting above, I eventually decided that the choice of the hat and teddy bear were not random and not just about colors and textures.  The teddy bear was the very young innocent me, while the hat was the grown-up me, and I was saying something about both of them being present at the same time.  I gave the painting the title "Now and Then".

So when you look at some of my artwork, don't ask me what I was trying to say.  Tell me what you see in the painting.  That's much more interesting.