On and Over the Hills

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle

Subject First, or Do You See What I See?

Winter reveals the abstract – shapes and lines in undulating drifts and unimpeded shadows under the low tracking sun. Scarce colour stands out against endless white.

My husband is tolerantly indulgent of my passion. When possible, he will drive the rutted and dusty, or icy back roads turning a two-hour trip home from the city into six hours, stopping frequently and waiting patiently while I take pictures of whatever strikes my fancy along the way. He appreciates a lovely landscape, a wildlife photo and especially pictures of our children, grandchildren and pets, but when it comes to ‘art’…well it’s all subjective, isn’t it? For him, it is all about the subject. The sky could be disastrously blown out, the colour dull and the composition terribly unbalanced, but if a granddaughter has a sweet smile on her face, or there’s a horse in the frame – it’s a good picture!

And really, that’s what the initial attraction is for most people. Being able to let go of objective perception and allow oneself to react to a visual image as an emotional experience alone is something many of us haven’t been able to do since we were very young children. Most of us have to relearn that ability as adults, if we so desire. If looking at an image doesn’t ‘do anything’ for you, there are two possibilities. One: you are trying to let yourself ‘feel’ it, but there is nothing there that speaks to you, or two: you are busy looking for an interesting subject that isn’t there.

Allowing your heart, your soul, or your right-brain, (however you want to label it), to ‘feel’ an image is a learned skill for most of us over the age of five. Once we’ve learned the ‘artistic’ skills of turning our infantile scribbles into ‘subjects’ – as: ‘how to draw a face’, ‘how to draw a tree’, ‘how to draw a flower’, etc. – then the ability for shape and colour alone to evoke an emotional response is suppressed. It gets pushed into that instinctive part of the brain that may no longer be accessible to our conscious mind.

"When There's Ice in Your Heart"

I took the above picture with a little point and shoot in 2009 (before I bought my DSLR) as I took many pictures of the beautiful frost glazing the windows in my home. I soon discovered that frost pictures are fairly ‘cliché’. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of them posted to the internet, most of which are pretty patterns but nothing more in my eyes. However when I saw this one on my computer screen it hit a deeper sense than the merely aesthetic. The impression of a landscape was there but there was more than that. The title immediately popped into my head, which doesn’t always happen and I knew I had something I liked. Not loved, necessarily, technically it’s nothing to write home about, but something I wanted to share.

After I posted it to Flickr I was touched when I received an email telling me that it had stirred up feelings that the sender had been struggling with. The image had made her think about something that was painful to her, but that she felt she had needed to deal with. I was conflicted about this at first, not wanting to cause anyone pain, but in the end I was gratified that something that I had created, and that moved me, also touched someone else.


This may be a nothing picture to you, even if you are able to see with your heart, and that’s quite alright. Individual experience and instinct work together to interpret all visual stimuli. Unconsciously, we all react to colours and light or lack of either. Soft and sensual or sharp and geometric shapes may hit somewhere in the emotional centre of the brain. Sensations of experience may be evoked by the quality of an image as much as by the subject, or the way the elements come together, but are we always aware of that?

"The Embrace"

There’s a difference between appreciating a technically perfect photo or painting and being emotionally moved by one. I want both. I want to be able to make the technically perfect and create images that reach beyond the aesthetic to emotionally connect. To make a connection is my ultimate goal when I post an image to share. I don’t know if that’s more of a challenge with realistic or subject-centered images, or those conveying only an impression of a personal reality.

"Sometimes I Just Don't Feel Like Talking"

Rather than leave the reader with only my attempts and for further exploration of the concept, I offer this link to a small, but inspiring collection of wonderful Abstract Impressionistic Photography from the Colour Lovers website. Enjoy!

29 comments on “Subject First, or Do You See What I See?

  1. pixilated2
    February 13, 2011

    It’ all yummy! Yours and theirs, and for the record… is their a woman’s face in “The Embrace?”

    • missusk76
      February 14, 2011

      I suppose the correct answer is, “If you see one it is there”. That’s the thing with this kind of image. In obscuring the literal, the opportunity for personal interpretation is opened up. What you see and feel can and should be entirely different than what I see or originally photographed, since you bring your own uniquely shaped set of neurons to it. I’m happy you think it’s all ‘yummy’, thank you.

  2. Bob Zeller
    February 13, 2011

    Cindy, oh Cindy! What marvelous work you indeed do. When I started to read this post and saw that first image of the snow, I was blown away. What do I like about the picture?? I have no idea. But I was struck by the way the shadows are muted and just blend in with the snow. The blue hues are seem to fade into each other. I usually don’t look for abstract art, and I have none hanging in our home, but sometimes I see something like this and I love it.

    I guess that I should say that when it comes to this type of art, I either really like a lot, or I am not moved at all by it. I remember that when we first came to San Angelo in 1961 we were in this shop that carried just about anything you could imagine. We for shopping for some minor thing, when I noticed this painting, actually a photo reproduction of a pair of wild horses running across the plains, with a huge violent thunderstorm bearing down on them. Instantly, I knew that I had to have it. It was way up on a top shelf. I asked how much it was and I was told that it was $50.00. I was a lower ranked military person and I couldn’t afford that much back then. But that picture was forever on my mind, and my wife and saved a few dollars each week. We kept dropping in to see if had been sold yet. After about three months I went in there to pick my prize. The framed faux painting is named “Freedom of the Plains” and the artist is Mario Bordi. I still have it.

    I am just trying to make a point that sometimes, a picture just knocks me on my heels the first time I look at it. Like your snow picture did. But I couldn’t put into words what emotionsl feelings they instill in me, or what caused them.


    • missusk76
      February 14, 2011

      I looked up that painting and although I only found a small thumbnail image of it, I can see why it appealed to you. There seems to be a wonderful sense of freedom in it as many good pictures of running horses convey so well. I found little on the artist as well, beyond that he was born in the late 1800’s in Italy. I’ve always found the discussions around art evaluation intriguing because it seems to me that the results of any judging would vary depending on the mix of those making the decisions. Regardless of learning, the interpretation of art is subjective and that takes us back to the conclusion that in the creation, the artist must ultimately please him or herself. Thank you, as always for your continued encouragement as I work towards that goal.

  3. photosbymartina
    February 13, 2011

    Cindy, I love them all. They all speak to me so well. I can tell you that my views and feelings of art have certainly changed as I got older. I have a much broader open mind to what is art and why it is art. Your Blue photos are spectacular, I’m so glad you shared them.

    • missusk76
      February 14, 2011

      Hi Martina. We do evolve, don’t we? I was exposed to a lot of visual art as a teenager and I’m sure that shaped my own, as it should have. I put aside my own development to raise my children. Having stepped back into it in the past few years I’ve discovered that I’m a different person and it shows in my work. I am more grounded (hopefully) and I’ve changed my medium from painting to digital photography, which has come with its own challenges, but it has also opened up a whole new world of art to absorb. I’m so glad you enjoyed the pictures. Your images speak of a deep, joyful love of nature and you can see some of that in mine, I am gratified.

  4. Nancy Schober
    February 13, 2011

    Oh Cindy! I am no where as eloquent as you but I so agree. Letting go of the subjective subject and just ‘seeing’ for the sheer delight of it is part and parcel of making wonderful art. I think most people have the worst trouble with this with pictures of (their) children they can’t separate what the picture is of with the actual artistic value of the image.

    • missusk76
      February 14, 2011

      You are so right! And I am no exception there. My grandchildren are no more easy to use as ‘subjects’ than my children were. I often wish I had a disguised, very long lens to secretly take portraits of strangers. As a teen I painted often from photographs and almost exclusively incorporated human figures in my paintings. I attended the Alberta College of Art in my late teens and fell in love with drawing from live models. As I mentioned to Martina above, time passing has change things. Geography has as well. In leaving the city, I have deepened my appreciation for nature, but I have also decreased the opportunity to photograph strangers, which, getting back to your point is the only way for me to take the subjective out of using humans as subjects.

      That was a bit long winded, I think, but all to say I agree. I am much better at being objective about others’ subjects than I am at my own – so far. I’m working on it. Thanks for your comment and getting me thinking…

  5. tms
    February 14, 2011

    Hi Cindy,

    speaking of the role of judging a picture by its subject, you really hit a nerve. Especially when it comes to photography. Much has been written about the subject always dominating composition, style – in short: the picture itself – when we look at photographic images. I can agree with that point of view but I keep asking myself if this is all photography can do.

    Your pictures seem to prove different, and I think you found a very good way of expressing ideas we probably share. I am curious about your pictures to come.


    • missusk76
      February 21, 2011

      Thank you Tobias. I’m wishing right now that I had more time to spend on this concept. Mentally stripping a ‘scene’ of any kind down to the essential elements or the unconscious reaction to light and composition alone is quite a challenge for me. Photographing it is even more so! ‘Subjects’ keep getting in the way!

  6. themichaellamcollection
    February 14, 2011

    I am not usually a person who goes out after abstract images, but I must say that when I see ones I like they usually impress me. These are very impressive, they are not just abstract, but pleasing to look at, and very appealing artistically, I can see these on a Gallery wall, just provoking responses from people 🙂
    Great job.

    • missusk76
      February 21, 2011

      Personal reaction to the abstract is so very subjective. I am not emotionally moved by strong geometrics or high-contrast and bold compositions without subject. But I do react, often strongly to colours’ intensities, curves and the suggestion of natural form. I have just begun to experiment with the abstract in my own work and am very happy that you liked these images. Thank you so much for your very high compliment!

  7. Bob Zeller
    February 14, 2011

    That was neat that you were able to research that artist. I never thought about doing that. I’ve been thinking about why I like that first snow image of yours. It the simplicity, clutterless and quietness that comes through. I hate a lot of clutter. That is why I like to, when photographing my wildlife, use large apertures to get that nice blurred bokeh. My photograph of the Cactus Wren is one I feel is one of my favorites, because it is free from elements. Just the wren and the expanse of snow. In that painting by Bordi, I feel it is just the horses and the storm.


    • missusk76
      February 21, 2011

      It’s wonderful to read your analysis of the picture’s appeal, Bob. I agree about clutter, although I can’t say I always avoid it. I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right about the softness of the bokeh generating a quiet feel.

  8. Heather
    February 15, 2011

    These are lovely, Cindy. I’m not normally drawn to abstract art, but when it’s created using the natural beauty surrounding you, it definitely has an impact on me. I think it’s the colours that have captured my attention in this one. I especially like the very first image of the snow. We have a lot of drifts out here too and they’re always drawing my eye. I also really like Sunrise Frost Shadow. The warmth of the image is really appealing to me.

    • missusk76
      February 21, 2011

      I’m totally fascinated with snow shapes and shadows and have taken hundreds of picture of them this summer. It’s really what got me looking at other things in a more abstract way. It has amazed me how personal it is though. I have not been drawn to anything that isn’t, as you say, “created using the natural beauty surrounding you”. We must be two of a kind in that way. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  9. julianhoffman
    February 17, 2011

    These are deeply entrancing, Cindy. I sincerely believe that you are on a path of real richness here. ‘Drifting’ and ‘Sunrise Frost 1’ are magnetic, pulling me in to their complex shades and abstract landscapes. Whether a place of dreams or other realms, the abstract also conveys suggestions of the world around us. Only it’s a world seen from another angle, a hypnotic perspective that touches a great many emotions. When critics asked the writer J.G. Ballard if his mesmeric, but oddly familiar and often disturbing stories, were set in the future, he replied that in fact they were set in the “visionary present.” I’m reminded of those stories here; wonderful work.

    • missusk76
      February 21, 2011

      I love Ballard’s concept of a “visionary present”, which applies very well to a lot of good visual art – ideally evocative representations of the artists’ personal visions of their specific ‘nows’. I’m delighted that you have compared these images to Ballard’s description of his settings. Thank you, Julian.

  10. Rose
    February 22, 2011

    These are spectacular! Love the finesse and the delicacy in them. Especially in “Drifting”. So soothing, so calming, gorgeous pastels! Love to have such beauty hanging on my wall.

    • missusk76
      February 24, 2011

      Thank you very much Rose. I’m glad they spoke to you.

  11. mizmagee
    February 24, 2011

    These are inspiring!

    • missusk76
      February 24, 2011

      Thank you. I’d love to think that I can pay forward some of those amazing artists who have inspired me.

  12. flandrumhill
    February 26, 2011

    Cindy, contrary to its title, your last photo speaks to me. The blue is such a true blue. I know the snow and ice are wearing on everyone at this time of year, but the ice crystals are just so beautiful and these seem to be in motion. The photo at top also looks so soft and gentle with its ice blue folds.

    Abstract art can be so revealing in ways that representational art cannot.

    I like your new theme. It’s very neat and strong.

    • missusk76
      February 27, 2011

      Thank you Amy-Lynn. Nature does create her own art, free for the enjoyment. If you are aware, a bit of one’s self can be revealed in the observation of it. I’m glad you like the new theme – it was done on a whim. I do love stitched leather.

  13. lynnwiles
    March 5, 2011

    I see a wonderful series of abstract nature impressions and that is one of my favorite styles. Glad I found your blog Cindy.

    • missusk76
      March 5, 2011

      I see that you are quite adept at expressing the feeling of your subject. I too am glad you dropped in and am looking forward to a good perusal of yours.

  14. Roberta
    March 7, 2011

    There are some terrific images here! I really like the blue frost one. Gorgeous abstract!

  15. missusk76
    March 7, 2011

    Thank you very much, Roberta. It means a lot to me that you found one you like as I very much admire your style. I have a question for you, though. Do you think that the term impressionism in photography is simply being used because the painting style became more well known than the pictorialist photography movement? Or are they mutually exclusive?

  16. james winters
    June 20, 2011

    “Sunrise Frost Shadow.”
    It is the orange one.
    Really neat.
    I found it most pleasing and well, peaceful. I thought.
    We had a campfire here last night… Minds drifting. Smoke. Blurry thoughts.
    “Peace,” jw

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2011 by in Processes and tagged , , , , , , .
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