Beholder’s Share


An exhibition of my Local Color prints (with a few mountain landscapes) just opened at the Westover Library in Arlington and will run until the end of October 2013. The library was remodeled recently, and its reading room is light-filled and comfortable, making it an inviting space to hang artwork. Displaying the prints in a venue close to home also underscores their theme—everything is local. The colorful prints on the neutral walls are eye-catching, but I’ve been curious to know how viewers respond in a public place that isn’t devoted to art. To that end, I’ve spent some time in one of the comfortable chairs surreptitiously observing. I suppose it’s a question that every artist thinks about: "Who are the phantom viewers of this work, and what will they take away from the experience?” The process of making art, at least my kind of art, is very interior and solitary. I follow my curiosity through the world and draw inspiration from its beauty. I trust my instinct and my experience, and I know how essential it is for me to create the work. But I do wonder how it will be received and who will be drawn to it. A work of art is incomplete without the response of the viewer. This is known as the “beholder’s share,” the portion of the art equation that includes the perceptions and prejudices of the viewer. Just as a novel doesn’t take on a life of its own until it’s read, a work of art needs the viewer to give it life beyond its creator. This is a topic that has intrigued philosophers for millennia, but there has been renewed interest recently with advances in neuroscience and the study of visual perception (The Age of Insight by eminent neuroscientist Eric Kandel is incisive on the topic). As I sit watching my potential “beholders,” I am fascinated by the mix of responses. Some people walk by without noticing, but others look carefully, perhaps delighted by the unexpected distraction. I am most excited when someone seems uninterested but stops suddenly, caught by a color or subject that is intriguing or pleasing. That's when I know the print is speaking to its beholder. The artwork is complete.