Making art about empathy

I am blogging from London where I am attending a painting course. It’s giving me an excellent combination of instruction and inspiration. One of my aims is to explore how I can make art related to the empathy project.

Some exercises on Thursday had us talking about a painting that has accompanied us through life and exploring its meanings. I worked with The Head of a Young Girl by Fantin-Latour which I loved as a teenager in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

What emerged was the significance of her eyes and how they engage the viewer.

Really young babies react to eyes in faces, and even to circles painted on a balloon. It’s where our human connections begin from. Eyes show our laughter and pain. Looking someone in the eye, or avoiding doing so, has strong meanings, different in different cultures. Are children in your culture supposed to look at an adult who is telling them off? Or would that feel rude and the appropriate response would be lowered eyes?

One of the art exercises involved erasing a drawing. First draw a scene from childhood. Then, once it starts to be recognisable, erase parts of it until it loses recognizability. I tried that in a photocopy of the Girl. It was impossible to not recognise the eyes.

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