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Jeanne and Rothko

A museumgoer and an artist, I think a lot about the symbiosis between looker and maker. When I am looking, I look quietly, waiting for the art to speak to me, show me, move me, surprise me. When I am making, I try not to think, and to just let my marks speak for me. Then I imagine I am the finished piece; with people now looking at me, I hear what they’re thinking, see their feelings in their eyes. 

A museumgoer and an artist, I think a lot about the symbiosis between looker and maker.

Forget about the hollow, pretentious, inane blather of art-speak. Art is a dialog in itself. There’s nothing to understand.


100 Words/RetroFlash

(Note: My second favorite thing to do in museums and galleries — obviously the first being to look at art — is to watch other people look at art and, as unobtrusively as possible, take photos of them in the act. Their body language says a lot. My featured photo as well as the photo for the main prompt are both from my collection.)


Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    As someone who has looked at art my whole life, but never been capable of making any visual art (singing, dancing, acting are different mediums; fleeting, ephemeral), I found your 100 words profound and stunning.

    I have heard a LOT of artists try to talk about/explain their work. Some can, some can’t and (sadly) they are often judged by would-be buyers if they cannot articulate meaning in what is essentially feeling. Which is what I love about your statement of letting the marks speak to you. You communicating with your work. It carries you to a different head space. It is about the gesture itself. Then you “become the work”. WOW! Barb, that takes this to a whole different level. At-oneness. Transcendent. Gives me shivers.

    I fear too many people don’t understand abstract work (the Rothko begs deep looking – it draws you in, and you must unfold the layers of paint and contemplate the universe while looking; even my husband loves Rothko, but art-speak turned us both off to the magazines and critics long ago).

    Conceptual art leaves people begging for interpretation and that can be problematic. It would seem these days that people spend more time reading the wall text than really taking in the art work. But AbEx is all about the gesture, color, some form. My mentor told us to look at the edges, so we can see how the artist edited herself. Everything requires close looking, just as you say in a mere 100 words. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much, Betsy. And now I want to grab some shots of people reading the wall text (once we can go to exhibits again)! I might also create a portfolio of artist statements and critiques that are so over the top that they’re laughably unintelligible.

      Did you happen to see the play about Rothko called “Red”? Fabulous! A quote: “Rothko: Wait. Stand closer. You’ve got to get close. Let it pulsate. Let it work on you. Closer. Too close. There. Let it spread out. Let it wrap its arms around you; let it embrace you, filling even your peripheral vision so nothing else exists or has ever existed or will ever exist. Let the picture do its work — but work with it. Meet it halfway for God’s sake! Lean forward, lean into it. Engage with it!

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        I did not see “Red”, but did see an excellent documentary about Rothko last year. I think it might have been on PBS, probably on American Experience.

        Yes, great quotes…experiencing it, being enveloped in it is how to engage with it.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this, Barb. It is a perfect expression of what art means to the creator and the observer — all in 100 words,

  3. Brava Bebe, thanx for the peek into your process of making art and looking at art – I believe you’re telling us to simply look and not over-think, a good lesson for me and my struggle with abstract art!

    And here’s something fun – I once saw a series of candid photos that someone had taken of museum-goers looking at art WHO LOOKED THEMSELVES LIKE THE ART!
    Have you seen it? If not I’ll try to find it for you!

  4. Marian says:

    Profound flash, Barb. Despite having studied art history in an academic setting, I long ago abandoned artspeak and enjoy the engagement you so well describe.

  5. Suzy says:

    This is a wonderful RetroFlash, Barb! You are the best at packing volumes into 100 words! The description of your process of making art is incredible.

    Also, I love the idea of surreptitiously taking photographs of people looking at art. Didn’t realize that was why you had the pic of the man looking at the Miró that we used for the prompt. Your new idea of photos of people reading wall text is great too. So many possibilities, once museums are reopened!

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Yoiu’re not just an artist, Barb, you’re a poet. That is about as perfect a description of what artists and viewers are thinking. And all in 100 words.

    And, like Suzy, I also loved the fact that you photograph people looking at art. Would love to see more photos from your collection.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    I like the sentiment in the last sentence. What is “art” is as big as humanity. During the pandemic times, I find that my tastes in music have shifted drastically.

    Many years ago, a good friend of mine (who died in October), a singer, gave a performance. It was the first time I had heard her sing. I cannot remember the song in question, but at one point she looked at me in the audience, and in her big, bluesy voice, she changed a lyric from “baby” to my name.

    Made me all flushed and sweaty, it did! That connection lasted as long as she lived.

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