Sunday, August 23, 2009

Led by a Nose

Earlier in the summer I took the kids and our dog to North Country Outfitters in Nelson, PA. Jim Oman and I put a couple birds out for the dog. This was to give her some fun and exercise working them. She worked the first bird no problem. I flushed it for her, and it took off for the opposite hill.

Then the second bird was pointed and I duly flushed it, but instead of taking off it fluttered up, then down, and ran. No big deal, and we weren't hunting, so I told the dog to work the bird. It had run about 75 yards, but she didn't know where it had gone. The dog circled twice, then backtracked, lost the scent, and circled. While watching her I half-listened to Oman explaining to the kids what the dog was doing. He told them a dog, especially a hunting dog, 'sees' with it's nose. He said she wasn't using her eyes at all, but instead was busy decoding the information her nose was flooding into her brain. This dog was literally being led by her nose.

While driving today this scene popped into my head for some reason (probably because bird season isn't far away). I can't even imagine the reality of a dog with a sensitive nose, but I see the behavior. Smells fascinate them. Odors are their reality. What would a fine work of art be for a dog? It would certainly be very smelly.

We humans don't have that refined sense of smell. We're visually oriented. Artists even more so. I guess we're like the bird dogs of vision. I've seen this in action during critique sessions. A group of artists sitting around and a painting is put in front of them. Immediately they're all on point. It goes beyond the pleasure of vision; it's almost involuntary.

As an artist I devour images. It doesn't matter if they're photographs or drawings, paintings or etchings, they grab my attention. Most for just a fraction of a second, the better ones for longer, and the best hold my attention for a long, long time.

Does anybody else enjoy browsing in a bookstore just to look at the book covers? Usually I use Amazon to buy books, but Amazon in one sense can't beat walking around a Barnes & Noble or Borders. That sense is vision. The sheer wealth of images surrounding me on every book cover... if I give myself over to the pleasures of looking I don't even care about the book's content. Lately I've been trying to slow down when a cover catches my attention, attempting to analyze exactly what caught me, but it's hard when right-brain is asking for more, more, more - to do the left-brain thing.

Back to that bird. The dog worked the puzzle out in her head and locked up on point. My God an English Setter on point is beautiful. This time the bird held and I had to kick it into the air. The dog watched it fly out of sight, then turned and looked at me. I could see the realization in her eyes that that was it for the day, the realization and the disappointment. Not unlike the look in my friend Bruce's eyes when he realizes there are no more paintings for critique that day.

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About Me

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Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.