Daily Life Part 7

Print (1)
A print of a Picasso painting, photo by Theresa Barker.

When you look at this painting, what do you see?

The first thing I see is two faces, one light, like daylight, and one dark, like midnight. Or they are two sides of the same face, perhaps. The daylight face seems calm and at peace, perhaps meditating. The dark face has more tension, possibly in anguish or in sorrow.

And then I see hands, two hands that seem to be clasping one another.  There are fingers, or suggestions of fingers, wrapped into what might be hands holding each other.  Faces and hands, light and dark, the anguished face on the right side of the painting with one ear, listening, the calm face on the left side, thinking.  Sorrow and enlightenment interfolded with each other.

For some reason, when I look at this painting I feel as though I’m seeing myself.  One side of me, the calm person of repose, another side of me, the passionate, anguished, and indignant person.  And within myself, two clasped hands striving to bring together both sides of myself into some kind of harmony.  It feels as though I am looking into some strange mirror, whose image shows me more than my external self.  That sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?


This image was a framed print on the wall of our hotel room in Oregon.  I had no idea it was a print of a  Picasso painting, but it caught my attention and drew me in.  Looking closer, I could see a signature at the top of the print, and the signature appeared to be “Picasso,” but it was hard to tell.  After I wrote the short reflection above, I did a quick Google search to see if the painting was identifiable.  Can you believe that searching using “Picasso two faces with hands” turned up the painting?  It is called,“Tete d’une Femme Lisant” (“Head of a Woman Reading”).

A woman reading. – Presumably, that is what Picasso intended, a painting of a woman reading.

And what did I see?  Two faces, anguish in one face, calm in the other, clasping hands with one another.

Was I wrong?

To me, this is the very best thing about art.  If you like a painting, or a sculpture, or a piece of music, you often see or hear in it something that reminds you of a part of your own life, of a memory, of an aspiration or idea.  (And sometimes this even happens with a work of art that you don’t like.)  At its best, art can inspire to think about life a little differently.

I remember seeing an art exhibition in New York with my oldest son, who had a degree in fine art, and who had studied modern art for his thesis.  During our trip he told me something very useful about modern art:  when it comes to modern art, he told me, the key is the interaction between artist and viewer.  What the artist renders evokes a response in the viewer, and that interaction is the important part of the art, not just what the artist intended to represent in their work.  . . . Because modern art can be confusing at times, I try to keep this idea in mind when it comes to modern art.


What do you see in this picture?  If you have art training or art knowledge, what thoughts do you have on how to interpret this work?  Do you ever feel divided in the way that I’ve described above?

Have a lovely week!

Daily Life Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

26 thoughts on “Daily Life Part 7

    1. Yes, definitely, I’m so glad to hear you also feel that way. I remember a few years ago I was talking with a colleague about her decision to put abstract modern art prints on the walls of her workplace rather than landscapes or other realistic art. She said that she thought it was easier to look at abstract art over a long period, that you continually see new things in it over time, where with a landscape or realistic painting your brain sees the same things over and over. I suppose she’s probably right as well. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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  1. Good Morning Theresa. As authors don’t we also want to evoke a connection between the reader and ourselves like the artist does with his art. The connections made are what makes what we do worthwhile. Authors, Artists we’re all seeking to reach someone and share a moment.
    That painting is one of my favorites of Picasso and like you I also see me, the happy and sad me struggling to hold it all together. I’ve always believed Picasso chose women as his subjects because women were seen as vulnerable and struggling to balance things whereas the male counterpart was strong and always together or at least what earlier society wanted to portray. I read once that Picasso took pleasure in not presenting portraits as they really were but giving them a caricature twist because in general people who approached him for portraits of themselves he considered quite vain and mocked that vanity in his work.Picasso thrived on creative license.

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    1. “… we also want to evoke a connection between the reader and ourselves like the artist does with his art. The connections made are what makes what we do worthwhile.” – Yes, absolutely! This is what was in my mind behind the idea of the art-viewer interaction, and you’ve said it so beautifully. Thank you, Lyn, you must be my semi-soul-mate in creativity and writing and poetry! <: I think too often writers (esp. beginning writers) think only of the recognition they imagine they’ll get, and they overlook the reader-writer interaction that enriches one so much. Very nicely put!

      I did not know that about Picasso and his work, and I’m excited that you already knew this piece. I see what you mean about the balance aspect – and further, this piece makes me feel GOOD about the balance, that there can be the calm AND the intensity both within one person (me). That intense side (dark) makes me feel proud, proud to care about things that are important and proud to express my concerns and frustrations about those things. Ah, well, a bit carried away there, but again, thank you, Lyn! (I hope you are still writing, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about your guests!) 🙂


  2. By nature, by habit and by training I tend to see things logically and rationally keeping a firm check on any flights of fancy or emotions that may intrude and disrupt the my ‘natural’ state of being. Hence I never saw anything in the painting – okay maybe half a face for the world (which the owner thinks is beautiful although i personally didnt find it so) and a skewed face (representing an evil hidden person?) and that’s it. But I really enjoyed reading your take and advice on the importance on the interaction. I also feel an interaction between a work of art and the viewer is essential. But what if there is no interaction no emotions evoked – does it speak poorly of the artist or of the viewer with no artistic inclinations? Thanks Theresa for this amazing post and sharing your process – always an eye opener and thought provoking too 🙂

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    1. Hi Dahlia! So interesting that you saw this piece as negative or a good v. evil situation. I wonder if the colors might have played into it somehow as well, the black and red being so strident. There is definitely a struggle going on in the dark side, and it suggested something more terrible, such as slavery or abuse. I could see the notion of a beautiful face covering over ugly intentions, now that you describe your reaction. I’m excited we had different responses, that is so cool!

      What if there is no interaction or if there are no emotions evoked? This is a great question. It makes me think of the Mark Rothko Chapel in Houston. You probably know Rothko’s work (very modern) – large canvases of what seems to be a single paint color, but on closer look is layered painting on the canvas providing depth … but still, a single color. I struggle with this … what does it mean? Reading a little more about the artist’s intention or about what others say about the work helps … but still, it does not speak to me in the way other works do. Hah! (Here is a link: http://rothkochapel.org/experience/gallery/)

      But what really helps me today is hearing your different interpretation of this painting, as it reminds me of the idea that what I see is not what others will see. So, what I see (or do not see) in the Rothko art is likely different than what others see, not good, not bad, just different. AND, guess what this reminds me of? POETRY! I love some work, but I cannot get into or understand other work, and that does not mean it’s good or bad, or I’m right or wrong, just … different. THANK YOU for reminding me of this! And also, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my piece. It is such a gift to me! 🙂

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  3. Coming from a purely academic background I know next to nothing about art (or Rothko) except what I came across in Y’s posts and now yours – so thank you for sharing this and your process. And slowly I am trying to let go of my need to ‘understand’ in favor of just feeling and hopefully with time I too shall be able to have a better grasp of all that is being said (in poetry and paintings) but more importantly that which is unsaid. And I really appreciate your ‘tutorials’ in this journey 🙂

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    1. Well, you have given me a gift of reminding me how differently we can see the same thing. Even a tree! 😉 I like your idea to let go and maybe give attention to the feeling of it. I still don’t care much for the Rothko dark paintings in the Houston chapel, but there are other works of his that I find more intriguing. Like this one: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/b0Y1zLQ6IZs/maxresdefault.jpg – which makes me think of a hot summer’s day in the desert, or perhaps even a waterfall? hehe Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

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      1. What an interesting painting! I prefer the waterfall interpretation 😀 After some thought I saw it as anger – manifested (the yellow bit) and deeper simmering un-manifested (orange bit) like how one loses ones temper over something but the real cause is something else – oh wow this is so cool! 🙂 Thanks Theresa for opening my eyes and thoughts! Have a super day 🙂

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  4. Oh Teresa, reading your research, I do see the book that the hand is touching, perhaps tries to turn the page. I remember the ink drop paintings that fold in the middle then peel them open to butterflies. People who take psychological testing are asked to interpret the paintings. I think I’ve taken too many testing in the course of my study of counseling, that right now, I don’t light to answer the questions about how I interpret a painting. My thinking is this may be my interpretation right now but it doesn’t represent my entire thought. I could do it for fun but not in a sense of being evaluated of my interpretation. I don’t want to discourage your question a the end of your post. It’s a good way to interact with your readers.

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    1. Hi Miriam! Yes, you are right, that after looking again with the idea of a book in mind, I do see pages at the bottom that saw as suggestive of a second hand. But I think it’s okay to see both! And I know what you mean about over-interpretation. It’s good, I think, to just feel how you feel about a work. I’m remembering our conversation about the energy in those quick strokes from your cabin painting, that was more along the lines of what I was suggesting about interpreting, not a formal academically-imposed interpretation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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      1. You’re welcome. I see the contemporary arts, it’s even harder to interpret. Some artists don’t have any thing in mind (as our instructors demonstrated), and go with the feeling while painting. As you said, we can see how we feel, but may not be able to guess what the artists intention or projection. I think!

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      2. Oh! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your watercolor work, Miriam! Yes, I have been doing some sketches, and I hope to post one or two more in an upcoming blog post. Thank you for asking!

        How is your granddaughter Autumn doing? All well, I hope!

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      3. I look forward o seeing your sketches. Autumn is still learning latching for the feeding. Some more learning for mom and baby to learn, especially learn about the type of crying, apparently there are 5 types of crying. Other than that, she is catching up with her birth weight!

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      4. With time and coaching, I’m sure they’ll do well. I still remember learning with my youngest baby, even though things had gone well with my next older (daughter) and I figured, I had this down pat. But you’re right, each child has their own pattern of learning, and it helps to know it’s may not be an “automatic” thing that happens. I remember with my first child, he was born about 5-1/2 weeks early, and even though he came home with me and didn’t have any significant health issues, he just never got the knack of it. I blamed myself, but years later I realized 1) being premature, he probably needed more time and assistance than a full-term baby, and 2) this was the mid-80s, when you got minimal support from hospital folks on the whole process. With my 2nd and 3rd (in the 90s), there was much more institutional knowledge and support, so we made it work. 🙂 Thankfully everyone is healthy, Mercy and Autumn both!

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      5. Mercy was born at 28 weeks here in Kaiser, Portland. 1 lb 13 oz. She was tube fed for a long time, transported to CA right after I went back to CA to report to work. She was in Kaiser NICU for the total of 8 weeks. She is the only child, so I never experienced any feeding problems.
        Yes, even though they are still learning, Mercy has good support and baby is healthy!

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  5. Before I read what you saw, I only recognized a face, only on the one side, with some abstract on the other side. I didn’t see her reading but it is a woman. Then, I saw what you saw because you told me. I am one of those who can’t understand paintings at all. I see a painting and if it’s pretty, then it is pretty. Abstract? It does nothing until it does which is a mystery but I really don’t normally get anything from them. If I had money, I would buy paintings because of their investment values. I don’t have paintings… I have one: a landscape. My walls are either bare or with a mirror. I’m so without culture, right? Haha!

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    1. Oh! I’m so glad you shared your thoughts with me, Anne, that is so interesting that you only saw the left half-face. And I know what you mean about art. When you mention it, I realize I have art on my walls that is mostly either photographs from an artist who sells them at our local farmers-and-arts market (the Pike Place Market in Seattle), or art from my family. My grandmother was a painter and I have 5-6 of her paintings, mostly of the desert southwest. And my oldest son, I have two of his senior thesis works hanging on the wall. Oh, also my youngest son draws us each a drawing for birthday or holiday gifts, and I framed a couple of his works. Hmmm, I didn’t realize before how much my family’s work is on our walls! And, mirrors are really great to have in a home. It increases your “chi”! (feng shui-wise) 🙂


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