Wednesday, June 10, 2009


On Sunday, Sue Danielson, Joan Cox, Peter and Jillian Hensley and I sat around my long table spread with books and postcards that related, obviously or obliquely, to narrative in art, drinking coffee and munching carrot cake. From the get-go, the ideas just flew.

One of my favorite moments was when Jillian wondered aloud how the all-white painting she once saw in a museum many years ago could possibly contain a story. She found the piece annoying in its blankness, so carefully and evenly painted, and couldn't see how it amounted to anything. 

After some discussion she surprised herself by musing that for one thing, perhaps the reason she saw only white was because she had zoomed in so far the subject couldn't be made out, and that if she could only draw back a bit it would begin to reappear...this imagining, she suprised herself further by realizing, created in effect a kind of content, and a story.

The eyes of the artists in the room glistened at the recognition of a potentially mineable idea. You could almost hear the little gray cells expanding, along with our definition of narrative. 

But before we got much further down that road, Peter began to express his experience of abstract art - a Mondrian grid painting, for example - as "arresting" his eye and further, his thoughts, because it presents no imagery that can be immediately interpreted. Thus for him, a purely abstract painting effectively interrupts the mind's search for a narrative. Aha. A view, then, in support of abstract art as non-narrative? Joni for one found this idea particularly compelling as a sort of Buddhist approach that enabled her to see the contrast between story and, at least initially, no story.

More expansion. More coffee.

We continued, engrossed, nibbling spanokopita and mushroom turnovers. I held up Mondrian and Velazquez, Asterix and Jacob Lawrence, and we followed our thoughts out loud, ultimately deciding, after three hours, that we had barely scratched the surface. A most satisfying Cafe. Thanks to all who were there.

Wish you had been? Look for Part Two of this topic, I have a feeling it will be back. Comments, thoughts? Post here or Email me.



Suprematist Composition: White on White

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)

1918 Oil on Canvas, 31 1'4 x 31 1/4" 


  1. Our Sunday morning session was a highlight of our trip, and certainly broadened my perspective thanks to your talent as a facilitator, Julia, and to your insights and sensibilities, Sue and Joni. It was such a pleasure to spend time with you both. Your so-called "imperfect" notes, Sue, are an accurate and most helpful record of our discussions. Thank you so much for not only keeping track of our ramblings and attempts to express our experiences, but making sense of them. One problem--I now know what I'm missing when Julia sends me notices about her "cafes." Perhaps one day Peter and I may be able to participate through Skype!

    ---Emailed to me by Jillian Hensley. I think she may be onto something. See Joni's response

  2. Jillian--SKYPE!!! yes, Of course!! My son is still trying to get me to use it! That is an excellent idea for having you and Peter present-from-afar!! You are most definitely a 21st century woman!! Good for you! Looking forward to more cafes,