Saturday, October 16, 2010

the ambiguous realm

Guardian Spirit of the Waters, Odilon Redon, 1878, charcoal
Art Institute of Chicago
The Smiling Spider, Odilon Redon, 1881, charcoal
Musee du Louvre, Paris

Laura Zindel's wonderful ceramics bring to mind another I associate with the dark beauty of autumn, the mysterious and evocative art of Odilon Redon, pronounced "o dee lawn r'dawn", by the way, 1840-1916.

The following quote is how Redon described his own work, which is how I think we should look at most art forms, including poetry, since the meanings of works are not limited to what their artists intended. A good piece will have an impact on more than one level, and is best enjoyed by simply absorbing the layers, allowing it to inspire, not by solving it, like some kind of mathematical equation. I could go on at length on this subject, but will save it for another day, another post.

Self-Portrait, 1880, Musée d'Orsay

My drawings inspire, 
and are not to be defined. 
They place us, as does music, 
in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.

Spirit of the Forest, Odilon Redon, 1880, charcoal and chalk
The Woodner Family collection, New York


  1. I really like all of these. They seem oddly absurd, in a way. And, I really like things such as that.

  2. Oh I like the spider and the little man with branches coming out of his head.

  3. Me, too, I think the little branch guy is fabulous!

  4. I love this post. Reaches to me.

  5. So pleased to see this post- I see these sorts of things all the time in the forests and on the body else seems to but there they are right there on your blog- so, either we are both insane or other's have limited vision...or something...fabulous artist, thank you Ms. Willow!Great find and wonderful post.

  6. "Words make love on the page..." Now, I can live on this quote for the rest of my days!

    Fabolous post!

  7. I've always loved Redon's work. Excellent post!

  8. Thank you for introducing me to this artist. I love the first two drawings, would love to own them! And his quote is perfect.

  9. "My drawings inspire,
    and are not to be defined.
    They place us, as does music,
    in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined."

    I am so happy to see this. This is exactly how I view art and music. It is also the reason I hate book clubs:)

  10. Had you not said these drawings were by Redon, I would never have known it. I associate him much more with highly colourful flower, or flowery, paintings. Even in his figurative work he manages to make clouds appear as flowers. A classic post-impressionist painter and, for me, a local lad too.

  11. Willow,

    Although the 'Impressionists' have held most people's interest during my time, the pre-Raphaelites have gained a lot of ground.

    Redon's been classified among the Symbolists, likely always a specialized taste.

    He often enough deals in 'soft' edges -- although I wouldn't make book on my visual critique.


  12. I first "discovered" Odilon Redon the summer after I graduated from college in 1985 when I stumbled on a show of his work in Nantes, France. I remember the painting "Silence" -- it was all very formative for me, and it's been a long time since I've read about or thought of him and his work. Thank you!

  13. Thanks for the introduction. You know, Redon is absolutely right. And it's fascinating how the same work of art impacts differently on our individual sensibilities. I love the idea of absorbing the layers and, in turn, being absorbed by the art, allowing us the freedom to interpret.

  14. Another quote in the same vein that I like:

    "If you are pointing out one of the things a story is about, then you are very probably right; if you are pointing out the only thing a story is about you are very probably wrong - even if you're the author."
    ~ Neil Gaiman

    I too liked the little stick man, can't you see him as a little house goblin scurrying around?

  15. Guardian Spirit of the Waters ..... a great start to my day.

  16. I know a Redon Head of Christ picture, but haven't ever seen any others - I really like these!

  17. Beautiful works. That first one has so many layers, I think you would see something new each time you look at it.
    The "undetermined" is not always a comfortable place, in a society where we want to "get it", but it's good for us to ponder and make our own interpretation.
    I like the analogy to music.

  18. Good Art Must Be Undetermined to keep it fresh & alive.

  19. Willow,
    I have enough trouble figuring out my own thoughts let alone try to discern another artist's thoughts.
    That smiling spider resided just out side the window by the dining table at the cottage this summer. Perhaps now I've seen it's ancestor from france.

  20. "My drawings inspire,
    and are not to be defined.
    They place us, as does music,
    in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Thank you, Willow, for this exquisite Sunday morning post!

    A wonderful Sunday to you,

  21. Although the darkness of these pieces has a benign quality, I have to admit they wouldn't be my first choice for hanging on the wall!

  22. Just jumped over from fb.. to see these better. Wonderful, dreamy work. He's one of those artist's, I think, we loose and find again just at the right time. Nice footnote, or headnote to your last post. -J

  23. Fabulous paintings! I always enjoy visiting your blog!!

  24. I loved Redon but was not familiar with the skeleton, perfect for October, no?

    "simply absorbing the layers, allowing it to inspire, not by solving it.." wonderful words. so often we want to make things tidy and succinct. yet life and art are not tidy. it is only by waiting and pondering that we can perhaps come to some sort of right brained understanding or glimmer of.

    After reading your Zindel post I returned to the shop that sells her ceramics. They have a whole wall of mugs, salt and peppers, tea cups, platters and bowls. Tres pricey. But most interesting.

  25. here here.

    like his art, it is so simple, yet deep

  26. One of my heroes. Great selection.

  27. I really liked your post. I read a book once, by a writer from England. And she said, we should spend as much time with a piece of art as did the creator. And you said it just right, not to figure it out, but to let it seep in.

  28. So interesting. I admire the minds of artistic people who bring unique ideas to us in their art. Your blog is always interesting as well appealing to the eye.

  29. Such incredibly unusual, yet fascinating and eye-catching. I agree, the little branch guy is wonderful!

    CJ xx

  30. hello willow! how cool to see works by redon here! i have long admired his work and especially the thinking behind and inside it. my fave here would have to be the guardian with little wings. steven

  31. I confess to not knowing a lot about Monsieur Redon...but I intend to remedy that....what wonderful works! (Even the Spider!) I love his words....because to me, this IS what art (in any form) is all about....not only the Artist's conception....but the varied responses the work evokes from the "looker", the "reader", the "listener".

    Hugs to you on a gorgeously chilly day in San Francisco! Wooly socks for me today!

    ♥ Robin ♥

  32. I think it's pompous to declare that what a poem (or work of art0 means is THIS. It means what it means to each reader/viewer. So, we are quite agreed! I refuse to explain my own poetry, though I do try not to be obscure just for the hell of it, and i will say, "What I was thinking of as I wrote it was...."

  33. My favourite Redon is the Golden Boat...not sure at this moment if that's the actual title ...but I love the mystery of it and the look into the future.

  34. I loved what you wrote about art and writing...more please
    cute little complicated artwork

  35. 'The Smiling Spider' has always brought the best and worst out of me...Redon's work is at the level of art you so clearly described.

  36. I love the last couple of pieces, but the guardian of the waters looks like he's had a few too many yo-ho-ho's and way too many bottles of rum!


  37. And greetings to another page
    in my education--Odilon Redon.
    I had never encountered him,
    or his art, but like many others
    who gathered on the patio of
    the Manor for tea and poetics,
    I shall do some research, and
    begin to view his images, his
    art, and see where it takes me.
    There are literally hundreds, if
    not thousands of poetry workshops
    and challenge sites out there,
    but I believe for many of us,
    lovely Miss Willow, hanging out
    at the Manor is like returning
    to college, like sitting in the
    the student union building
    in our teens and early twenties,
    engaged in debate and dialogue
    that makes us miss our Civics
    class because we want to learn
    more about Odilon Redon.
    One of the joys had for a
    time was a site run by buddy
    Rick Mobbs, an artist and poet
    out of New Mexico. He would
    post an image of his latest
    painting, and a few dozen of
    us would write poetry or prose
    inspired by the image.
    You kind of do both over here,
    nestled amongst a plethora
    of other prompts. We read,
    look at, masticate, digest,
    and make love to your poem,
    and or take inspiration from
    the image you use to illustrate
    it, or just take of tangentially
    after some mysterious impetus
    and each volume of the
    Magpie Tales takes shape.

  38. Perhaps we are most human when we are undefined, graced with a touch of the mysterious, that elusive unknown something more. Layers ... yes! I love that concept. The spirit of the forest drawing claims something in me. I keep going back and looking at it over and over.

  39. Your inspiration overwhelmed me
    this morning, Tess. I posted a
    tribute to yours over on my site,
    and found 35 images of Redon's
    paintings and prints that caught
    my eye. Thanks to you folks neither
    of us will ever know can further
    appreciate Bertrand-Jean Redon.

  40. enriched once again,
    thank you .

    and completely agree with that thinking.

  41. Thank you for introducing me to Redon. He looks like he is an influence for Tim Burton. "Fantasy" is the word that comes to mind.

    Thanks also for the quote, I'll have to contemplate the "ambiguous realm of the undetermined."

  42. I love Redon, hauntingly perfect for the month of October!

  43. These are great and I agree that all art form can be visited on different levels which can add to the overall appreciation of the work... very good observation, my dear Willow!
    :) The Bach

  44. I can understand why one needs to look at his work in layers. But, so much of life needs to be looked at in this way. His work has secrets we will never understand. -- barbara

  45. Odilon Redon is my favorite painter. I recently saw an exhibit of his at the VAG. There was a charcoal sketch Redon did of his wife, and it was so compelling, I kept going back to look at it. It was wonderful.

    I love, love, love his colorful florals. He is almost two artist in one, some of his paintings dark and sombre, others lively and full of vibrant color.

  46. I enjoy getting introduced to artists I was not familiar with...Redon is certainly an artist with an autumn feel:)

    You have expressed exactly how I feel about reading poetry when you wrote "A good piece will have an impact on more than one level, and is best enjoyed by simply absorbing the layers, allowing it to inspire, not by solving it, like some kind of mathematical equation."

  47. Love that Odilon Redon quote! He is fabulous, I've admired his work for awhile now, intriguing and magnificent!


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)