As Others See Us

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!” wrote the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in 1786.

Who can’t relate to the desire to know what others truly think of us?  For me, the sentiment applies particularly to what they think of my work.  Even when they’re being complimentary — maybe especially then — I often wish I could get inside the heads of other people to find out exactly how my work looks to them through their own eyes.

When I look at my own work, I see not only the finished product but the whole process.  I know which parts match my intention, which fall short, and which serendipitously exceeded my plans.  I see what it was that inspired me to make this piece, my original concept, and every step along the way: every draft, every revision, every problem solved, every new idea incorporated.  It’s hard to distance myself enough to see the finished pieces as someone without such a long acquaintance might.

With only ordinary abilities, instead of the “giftie” Burns writes of, I gain interesting insights into how others see my work by what they compare it to.  I’ve heard my work described by others as similar to a mosaic, or a quilt, or a jigsaw puzzle. Here are two paintings that most recently reminded someone of my work.

My friend, painter Marty Shively, found these on display “in a church basement” in Transylvania. Although these were done with paint rather than paper, I admit that I see a resemblance to my collage.  On this occasion it’s a flattering comparison.  At other times, I wince a little at the suggested likeness.  Whether the association pleases me or not, I learn a lot about how they see my work from such remarks.

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