Sometimes Not Knowing is Better

Philip Koch, Bend in the Pond, 55 x 44"
Collection University of Maryland University

People turn to visual art because it gives concrete form to something elusive yet important. We want to see the tangible evidence that, like ourselves, other people too have sensed the romance and drama that stirs within all of us. Art does this and thereby makes us feel less alone.

This is a piece that is several years older. It was painted from a plein air oil that was 25 x 20", a touch larger than my usual practice outside. It is from an old mill pond up in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts that powered a sawmill back in the 19th century. The remains of the old wooden waterwheel lay in the woods not a hundred feet from where I stood painting. As the small oil was larger than usual it took me several days to complete it. Next to where I stood was a rowboat and waiting oars. I imagined as a reward for finishing the painting I'd take it for a spin and explore the far side of the lake that was hidden from view.

As painters know, one's mind wanders a bit while one is working and I found myself fantasizing about what lay beyond the bend in the shoreline I was painting. Maybe something unexpected like a whole flock of herons or even eagles. Or who knew, maybe around the bend was an altogether other realm or time. Even old childhood enthusiasms crept back on stage. Perhaps a viking ship could round the corner at any moment. Getting a little bit carried away like this is important if your painting is ever to evoke emotions in your viewers.

The longer I painted on the piece the more I came to enjoy wondering what lay just beyond my sight. And when the painting was finally done I decided against taking the rowboat out on the water after all. The lovely stimulation of wonder and imaging had worked too well and cast just the right sort of creative spell over me. So I packed up and left the far end of the pond as an unexplored territory. The painting has more magic in it this way.


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