One afternoon a few years ago the phone rang and a voice at the other end said “You don’t know me but I just wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying one of your paintings.”. The man told me his name and where he was from. We’d never met. He didn’t own any of my artwork. He explained that he lived in Saskatchewan, a few hours drive away from Saskatoon, and that his wife was having surgery as we spoke. I had hung some of my art in Saskatoon’s City Hospital and he was calling from the pay phone located where the artwork hung. He was sitting there looking at it while he waited, while we talked, he told me. He said the piece reminded him of home and how much he and his wife love the peaceful qualities of where they had chosen to live. I had painted the scene because it had touched something in me. And it had, as he explained, touched something in him too. There’s no punchline to this story where the caller turns out to be someone famous or had made a generous purchase.
A bridge between the visual artist and the one appreciating the work, exists merely by the viewer appreciating it. Most times the people at either end of this bridge don’t meet in the middle in any direct way. Many eyes view a displayed work of art. Many people will walk away thinking about what the work reminded them of, or harbouring the emotion that the image instilled in them. The bridge exists even if the feeling invoked remains unexpressed. I’ll always remember the phone call.