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INTRODUCING ESSAYS: THE LYRICS OF A PAINTING

Updated: Aug 17

When I first began exhibiting my art at age eleven, at my mother's suggestion I started writing about the inspiration behind each piece. We hung these artist statements beside the paintings for anyone interested. Many people thought my parents (both academics) were penning these descriptions, but they reassured skeptical onlookers that this was my own doing. The process of both painting and writing is how I grapple with the deeper questions of life and our relationship with the natural world. Whether it be reading on ecology, history, philosophy or theology, my intellectual interests naturally flow through the paint of my brush onto my Baltic birch panels.

Detail of my painting "Swallowed by Knowledge," which reflects my love for reading

While admirers and collectors of my work have appreciated the literary extension of my painting, I discovered early on that the art establishment largely frowns upon this practice. One museum curator who barred me from including my painting stories on the wall, called them "didactic." Postmodern philosophers preferred to emphasize the multiplicity of interpretations, however, in doing so they brought about the 'death of the author'. According to this view, an author or artist's intent for their creation is no more important than anyone else's interpretation [i]. Of course, I have never sought to dogmatically dictate how people should think about my art. I have always affirmed the varied and surprising reference points people offer when viewing or owning my work. For myself, I am always eager to learn about the artist's context and what the work means to them, as I believe it is respectful to listen before conjuring my own interpretation.


As I explained in my second art monograph book Streams in the Wasteland, the writings that accompany each painting are like a series of artist statements to enhance the viewing experience. They describe my creative process and the inspiration behind each piece. In no way are my interpretations intended to be exhaustive for what the paintings may mean to viewers. My stories are like the lyrics to a song - you can still enjoy the music on its own, but the lyrics add depth and context.


In addition to writing about my own work, I enjoy researching and writing academic essays and articles. I was invited to be the Arts & Culture columnist for a Canadian magazine for young adults called Love Is Moving, and am honoured to be published in literary journals such as Ekstasis.


To organize my writings in a central location, I am launching a new tab on my website entitled "Essays." I will be adding previously published and new essays for readers to ponder, gladly welcoming feedback in the comments section.


Thank you for reading!


Josh Tiessen


[i] Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author," Fontana: London, 1977.



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