Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



October 2017

How does knowledge affect each stage of response to art? It is a question that has transformed my relationship to art and poetry.



Dear Reader,

Here is an activity for you to try. It’s best not to scroll down through the rest of Judy’s Journal. Just look at this painting for a few minutes, then note your initial response to it, your gut feelings about it. What do you think?

Next, here are a couple of facts about the painting. Read them and look back at the image.

1. It’s by Norman Lewis (1909-1979). Look back at the painting. Has anything changed your original gut feelings?

2. It’s about 4 feet by 5 feet and titled “Evening Rendezvous.” Knowing this information, has anything changed your earlier feelings or perceptions? When you have finished thinking about this, scroll down to the next section.

Finally, here are two paragraphs written by Miranda McClintic in Modernism and Abstraction: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2001.

“Evening Rendezvous is almost impressionist in its stippled blocks of color and diffusion of form. Looking closer, we see that this is not a pastoral landscape. It is a bird’s-eye view of a Ku Klux Klan gathering. The dominant colors are red, white, and blue. Does the red area signify burning campfires or symbolize flowing of blood?

Norman Lewis was a committed political activist in the Civil Rights movement. Having first painted in a social realist style, he turned to nonrepresentational art before many other members of the New York School. He was friends with the abstract expressionist artists and was a force in the Harlem Renaissance. Lewis evolved a distinct style of atmospheric color and calligraphic markings that often symbolize crowds of people involved in rituals, sometimes identified by titles affirming his social consciousness.”

How did knowledge affect each stage of your response to this painting? It is a question that has transformed my relationship to art. After seeing Norman Lewis’s painting for the first time, I trained myself to first look at the artwork, then at the wall label. And I prepare myself for a possible, unforgettable gasp.