At the opening of the 109th Annual Exhibition at Kirstenbosch (2015), Donna McKellar, one of the judges, made this speech. It was recorded by SASA and I find it very influential. It is aptly titled “The Language of Art” and that is my goal – to find my unique voice on this ‘long and wonderful road.'
The Language of Art (Donna McKellar)
“My name is Donna McKellar. Firstly I'd like to say thank you to Glenda, Jeremy and the rest of the SASA team for inviting me to your exhibition and giving me the honour of opening the 2015 Annual show.
“Please forgive me tonight if I falter or stumble in my opening. I will admit I am a bit nervous. Public speaking is not my favourite thing. My preferred form of communication is not usually on a platform and in English. I would be much more comfortable speaking in a language that IS one of my favourite things, and that is the language of art, and in my case, painting.
“Learning how to paint is like learning another language. We paint because we want to say something through our art. You want to convey a message, a thought or a feeling. To learn a new language you must first of all acquire some vocabulary. The words you learn are like the basics of art: composition, balance, drawing, colour theory, tones and hues. These are your building blocks, your new vocabulary.
“But it's not enough to just know the words. You have to know the grammar. Just how do you string all of those things together to make up a good sentence, a paragraph, or a poem? Your painting, sculpting or drawing techniques are your grammar. The better you know how to use them, how to put them together, the easier it is to say something coherent.
“And then over time as you continue to learn the vocabulary and grammar of your language, you begin to get the accent right. It's about using the building blocks in the right place, with the right strength, warmth, and even with the leaving out of certain things. Understanding less can be more, understanding the invisible line. The mystery in what is not there in an art work. This is where your signature style, your individual flavour, becomes evident, when you are saying something in a way only you can say.
“Learning from other artists is extremely important. Pretty much all I know about painting I've learned from other artists – asking, looking, trying and trying again. But here's where you have to make sure you don't get stuck. In attempting to write a book for instance you cannot just rewrite a book written by someone else, type it out, or hand write it and sign your name. It will never be your story. You can tell the same story but you have to find your own way of telling it. You are all unique and you are all interesting AND you all have something unique and interesting to say. So learn as much as you can from each other. But by working often and regularly you will find that your unique voice will come through. And that is something very special, something worth pursuing.
“There is a saying "if you do what you have always done you will get what you have always got." Same applies to learning this language. In critiquing your own work, I encourage you to be kind to yourself and be happy with what you do. But don't ever be completely satisfied. You can't grow and learn if you do the same as you did yesterday.
“I've had the pleasure of running a gallery for a few years and I am always intrigued to see what moves people when viewing artwork. And I've seen people moved to tears by artworks. I've seen them entranced. It's incredible this mystery of how your language of art, when put together in a unique and honest way can touch people.
“You are on a long and wonderful road. It's extremely rewarding. I want to congratulate all the artists here on this lovely exhibition. I congratulate you for your pursuit of learning the languages of art. SASA is such a wonderful society for artists to flourish in, surrounded by great artists, enthusiastic teachers and peers. There is no end to where you can go with your work. So don't stop. I really do look forward to seeing more of your artworks in the future.
Congratulations to the artists and thank you.”