A certain way of painting nature belongs to the French. And whenever an artist adopts that way, be it Jennifer Bartlett or Richard Diebenkorn or Winslow Homer, it is the same as speaking French. Call it “visual French.” I have myself been studying different dialects of it. In this picture Bonnard was my teacher. He has a certain distinctive accent that I think I caught in nuance, even though he never would have drawn in the medium I used, or drawn something this large or in quite this way.
Translation is a valuable metaphor for the exchange of ideas that take place among artists living in different eras. I can talk Bonnard’s talk, but I still sound “simply and frankly American” (as Mary Cassatt once famously said). And while I might adopt a second language to express my visual ideas, just like Polish Joseph Conrad became an English novelist, I am nonetheless giving my own opinions.
People trouble themselves over much with the question of originality. Yet one would be hard pressed to be anyone other than oneself. I may speak a visual French, but the pictorial ideas are mine. Thus the language is not quite French even, or English, or American. In a final sense one speaks the language of the self. Spoken earnestly, it’s a language that others can understand without a translator for it speaks to all the other selves in the clear tones of feeling and life.
[Top of the post: Speaking French to the Trees and the Sky, by Aletha Kuschan, crayon on Canson paper, 60 x 47 inches]