contemporary collage paintings
the process
Leslie Avon Miller

My life flows when I'm in my art.

Jean De Muzio

Monday, October 26, 2009

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Nonobjective Art!

October Winds, 14 inches by 14 inches on birch panel. Mixed media with collage by Leslie Avon Miller.

Can we talk? So if you make non-objective or very abstracted art, or alternative art how do you talk to yourself about the innocent questions or not so innocent comments people make about your work? Generally I try to only show my work to people who “get” it on some level. I don’t feel a need to try and carry on a conversation in a language I can’t speak or understand, so why would I try to talk about nonobjective art with people who look for objective subjects? Well, maybe those people are my relatives, and they asked to see my work. Or maybe they are lovely friends who really are interested because the art is mine.

What have people seen in my work? How about a rabbit standing by a rock? Or a tree, or an alien? Or a magic fairy? Oh the list goes on. I have generally learned not to show my work to people who are kindly and mildly interested. But I did it again…comments were “What is it?” And “oh…”

It’s as if I write poems in a language long lost and not understood and the rhythm, cadence and tones are not enough to know beauty when you hear it. Or perhaps I write music with no words, and the melody and the relationships between notes are ethereal and ancient, but leave the listener wondering how she can sing a catchy phrase in the shower?

Today I can laugh about it, and just keep on painting. I keep on painting because I love layers, and partially obscured marks, and I love colors and shapes and movement and mystery. I paint because I love the language. And I paint because I must. My life feels like a good fit if I paint; I feel like I am being who I am if I create. I create because that’s who I am and because I am compelled to do so. And because life is short and life is beautiful.

That’s one of the many things about blogging I find so worth while. I see work of other artists and I am thrilled to see their vision. And I see work that has pushed even further than mine and it makes me want to go down the path and find out what is around the creative corner awaiting me. I read eager words on blogs written by members of the tribe. And even if the artist speaks French, or Portuguese, and I only speak English it doesn’t matter, because we speak the language of Art.

“The artist is not a different kind of person, but every person is a different kind of artist.” Eric Gill


  1. Leslie--I so totally agree with you. I don't like it when I have to describe to people who don't get it what "I meant". I figure, if you have to ask, then you don't get it. My husband used to ask me: what are you trying to say? I stopped trying to explain to him also and just told him that if he liked the way it looked, if it was pleasing to his eye, then he could see whatever he wanted in it. I love your work, I admire what you do, and I loved what Mary Ann received for her birthday that you made. How do we find out about your art and what you sell? Are you on ETSY or some other place? Let me know, will you?

  2. Bravo! I have had alot of "What is it?" or "I don't get it" I avoid showing my art to those people. I guess I (we) could be nice and say "What do YOU see in it?"

  3. Yep - I totally get you. How do you describe or explain the unexplainable? I love this piece Leslie - it's to me a very liberating work. I see birds flying off into the past...

  4. I think it's wonderful - a beautiful world where I would like to sit and stay for a while - dream.

    Today I was asked what I would be qualified to do once I finished my diploma of textile art - sigh. The question gives me similar feelings as your thoughts here...I know that for some people it just won't matter what I say, they just won't get it so I leave it.

  5. Hi Leslie,
    I know non-objective artists get this more often, but realistic artists also get a variation on this theme. We just have to know that no matter how many people comment in a way that says they 'don't get it', that when someone says 'your painting makes me feel... or your painting makes me think about....' we've succeeded. A few thoughtful comments often outweigh the dull ones, don't you think? Connections are precious! Neat post....

  6. As always, your work is a visual treat that I adore resting my weary eyes on...I'm always thrilled to find your new posts, and when I read what you have to say, I totally get you! As I know you 'get me' too. I take comfort in knowing this. "Oy, it's been a day!" Seems to be the latest thing that pops from my lips (it's been a running joke at the office about life in general, and it has spilled over into the studio)...It's the 'why can't you paint something nice?' Thing (Of course, in my mother's voice...again.)
    This thing that I do with paint lately is just sooooo gorgeous...and I know not everyone gets it...they like it, but don't get it (can't wrap their minds around it) yet...they like it because they can see things in it, and somehow that makes it okay to let their mind roam. Tho' there are a few who don't want their minds to roam too far from "home", if you know what I mean...they want a tree to look like a tree, flower to look like a flower, the moon to look like the moon...whatever.

    I'm the kid in 2nd grade art class who chose to draw the Easter Dragon rather than the Easter Bunny...why not, right? It was fun at the time, and my mother...she embroidered my design onto a pillow...she does "get me" once in a while...I have to remind myself this now and then.

    Now...there's the matter of my book...apparently, it's "dense". (This is in my big sister's voice.) There's a lot going on and she's just in the first chapter.

    dense? (Yes, I'm going to chew on this for a while, trying to digest it.)

    Dense? (Okay, now I'm becoming fixated.)

    Dense! (Thar she blows!)

    Oy, it's been a day. Sometimes I can't wrap my mind around it...And so, I laugh about it. Shake it off. Dense writing and mystifying paintings are what I do! I do what I do because that's what I do...It's my flow to's my bliss.

  7. LOL! I'll never forget a juried show I was in a couple of years ago - my husband and I were standing across from my work - a lady came up, looked at the piece then turned to her husband and said, "look at that piece of crap!" - I just had to laugh - it was her opinion and she had every right to express it - I've ridden the train of "huh? what is it?" for so many years, that I don't hear it anymore and I'm fortunate that I have found a community that does get it - it's a big world and there is something for everyone if we are willing to look :)

  8. I've actually had one family member tell me my poetry wasn't good, because it didn't rhyme, and another said they didn't like it because they didn't "get it". Oy.

    WONderful new background color! ;^)

  9. Love this post. I guess many of us are interested in exploring colour or line or sound for their own sake. And others will just never get that.

  10. if you have to ask what it is, you probably won't understand the answer anyways.
    wanna talk about my work? let's just have a cup of tea instead...

  11. I find your work striking and beautiful and love each new piece
    you put up on your blog.
    I love nonobjective art as well
    and don't care what other people think any more.
    I realize that the work itself makes me joyful and allows me to meditate in a way I have never been able to before, to get lost in the work and if after I am gone I have
    a warehouse full of collages that never sold, it would have been worth it. I am sure you feel that way to.


  12. One of the wonderful things about blogging.
    We get it.

    This is a very nice painting,,,but the 'poem without words' in your side bar really drags me in.

  13. I wasn't aware that art had to say something.

    I don't expect a sunny day where I can close my eyes and feel the yellow heat and hear the dry leaves whisper and rustle to actually have words and a complete explanation.

    I think people have been trained to believe that each work of art has a deep meaning that they will never be able to understand. There have been so many artists statement written that make the art and the artist so unapproachable.

    In my eyes, art is the interpretation of life and beauty and nature. There are so many pieces of art that depict cruelty, violence and agony. Those -- well I'll probably never "get" them.

    I love your work and your language. I probably do not get everything. My eyes and body and soul are so pleased when I look at your work. It's enough for me!

  14. Teri – if you or anyone is interested in my work, just send me an email to and I will fill you in on what is available and so forth.

    Don – Yes, I do want to be kind about it. It’s my own reaction that happens internally that I am working on.

    Debrina – Yes, we are tribal members – birds flying into the past – great idea!

    jeanamarie – What a gift to give yourself – studies in textile art! And gee, to think you could have taken (insert a “practical” course here). Enjoy!

    Ruth – Hi Ruth – I see your art as having some abstraction which I enjoy very much. Yes, thoughtful comments are appreciated. What a great outlook you have. And I like that word “dull.” Good choice!

    Laura – Love the Easter Dragon story! What a visionary you are. Your response to “dense” made me laugh right out loud! I enjoyed your comment a lot!

    Jeane – Piece of crap?! Oh my! You would have to laugh! We are fortunate to have found the community of people who get it. Your work is so compelling and rich…

    Willow – I love the honesty of your poetry. And frankly, I prefer the poetry I read to lack rhyme – except when I don’t of course.

    Annie – Yes, the exploration is everything, isn’t it?

    indi@ - what a good idea – a “nice” cup of tea.

    Corrine – Yes, my warehouse is full of collage and I just say “I am so rich in art!”

    Babs- poem without words is part of a monthly exchange I participate in with a focus on experimentation. Thanks. ;o)

    Kim – we don’t have to “get” everything – just be open I guess. The bottom line for me is that my work is about being alive on this planet, in this time and being grateful.

  15. I don't think mom and dad will ever "get" your work, they just think differently. The biggest thing i have learned here at school is that design and art are about CONCEPT. if there is a good concept behind the work (literal or not) it makes it strong. and i think with art more that design not everyone is supposed to get it and that makes it much more special for those that do "get it". i will call you soon. i need to talk to you about my show.
    LOVE YOU and your work ;)

  16. oh yeah!! i showed your work to my classmates and they DROOLED over it! they all love it. they said, "now i see where you get it from!"

  17. This is wonderful. Reminds me why we blog about our work and put it out there for an appreciative and sympathetic audience.

    We just moved to the town where I grew up. My two aunts, ages 90 and 94, wanted to see my art, and it was their first time to ever see my current work. I had them over to the house, showed them a few paintings in my studio, and one of them asked me if I had any "regular paintings" she could see.

    Well, I do have some regular paintings, but couldn't unearth them right then. So they went away a little puzzled, I suppose.

  18. Leslie -- Next time ask them, "And what have you created lately?" That may be a bit too aggressive and yet some people need to be reminded that it is far easier to stand on that side of the canvas or the paper or the instrument and criticize than to be the creator. Your entry certainly sparked with other creative bloggers -- hurray for you! {P.S.-- truly love your "walking collage" -- !}

  19. just ran across this:
    "I am fascinated by line and marks made by the soul of the hand." this is from the artist statement of artist molly geissman.
    your post reminded me of it.

    beautiful painting!

  20. What a lively conversation coming out of your thoughtful post! Making art requires thick skin for sure...I have narrowed my circle of friends over the is healthier for me! ha
    Thank you for posting a good photo of "Within the Circle" as well as the link! We are enjoying the new addition to our living room!
    Love this new piece...I clicked to enlarge and found the colors so vibrant!

  21. Hi Leslie,

    I'm going to try and be an advocate for the lesser mortals here! Everyone can look at a piece of art and know whether or not they like it. Some people (me included, at times) lack the imagination to 'see' if there are no compass points helping to lead the way. They may want to understand and perhaps believe that they will be able to if someone explains what they ought to be able to see. But, of course, that won't really help.

    Your piece is called 'October Winds' and some people will think the title should convey something specific to them, rather like "House with red door" might. But I can appreciate the frustration that any artist might feel if they are constantly being asked to explain their work. So I promise, I won't ask. And, BTW, it's a bird!

  22. Hi Leslie,
    Beautiful work, as usual!

    Thanks for this post. I've given up showing my work to my family. My mother keeps asking, "What is it you do?" But I know she would be very disappointed to see it - and so would I at her reaction. She actually asked for some work for her walls at the home, but my partner told me to just let her forget about it unless I wanted to feel the pain of her lack of understanding. So that's what I'm doing. There's enough pain to go around without asking for it.

    I just hang out with other artists and that seems to solve the problem. We don't all do the same work, but we know that we all share the desire and commitment to making art. That gives us the willingness to be open to the unexpected.

  23. That is one of the beauties of art and music, they transcend the limitations of words and speak to us directly without the need for translation.

    Although I can appreciate your frustration when people seek to reduce art to a verbal translation.

  24. Don't know where my comment went. The gist of it was that I have a positive reaction to your work, Leslie. (I love October Winds)

    There will always be someone who doesn't get what we do and I've learned over the years to avoid showing those people who I know don't understand. (They are usually the people that enjoy chocolate box paintings). Often someone will see something in my work that I hadn't even thought of and more often than not I've enjoyed this revelation.

  25. Nope, no pink here. Nice work. I'll be back. thanks for stopping by my blog.

  26. Your words resonate with me strongly and with a lot of others as well based on the comments. My sense is that even if it evokes a "huh???", that is a reaction and this is what art is all about!

  27. Loved reading this post Leslie...loved reading all your comments too!

    I think India said it perfectly...cuppa tea sounds good :)

  28. Sometimes it is like when you hear a song and do not like it and later it grows on you, sometimes.

    This work, as is the one posted directly below, is just stunning. Your fourth world hieroglyphics just dance in the composition and make me smile. A heartfelt "ha-ha" instead of a "huh." Thank you for your insights and our questions. And some answers.

  29. I'm not quite sure how I wandered into your blog but I'm so glad I did. I love your work. It strikes a chord for me. I'm the one who stands in front of representational art and doesn't get it. I am the equivalent of the lady who said "what crap" because I think, "gee I have a camera at home." And then I realize, so many people out there, so many art forms. What I love about abstraction if I can express just a tiny piece of it, is that evokes something mysterious deep inside, something that can't be expressed in words or pictures. I love that mystery.

    What a wonderful lively blog, with fabulous posts and art and wonderful "conversation"

  30. Your art work is wonderful...! I haven't painted anything in two years, and now you have inspired me. :-)

  31. Leslie, 3 friends and I once spent an afternoon doubled over with laughter as we described various responses to what people "saw" in our art.

    It's like clouds: many are compelled to let the world know that they see a giraffe floating in the sky, not mere water vapor. And Jeane's comment about hearing someone call her work a "piece of crap" just makes me guffaw ~ when a person makes such a comment, the only thing they are declaring is their own taste (or lack thereof).

  32. I am a couple of posts behind--- slowly catching up. I couldn't agree with you more-- finding other artists around the world is so rewarding and wonderful.


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