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The Madness of Meaning in Art or Ruminations on the Artwork of Mark Stewart

Winter Roses

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The Madness of Meaning in Art or Ruminations on the Artwork of Mark Stewart

by Sue Stewart

reprinted from Informart Magazine, Fall 2006, by permission

I am an English teacher who's married to an artist. So, despite my best efforts to contain myself, I'm always trying to discover the deeper meaning in my husband's work. He does not enjoy conversations about this. That's part of why he paints. Painting is his talking.

So he paints and I have imaginary conversations with him about his work and his life as an artist. In these imaginary conversations, he says what he really thinks but would never say in real life because he is too nice.

"I'm not sure people think very much about the deeper meaning in paintings," he would say. "If they're serious about a painting, it's probably because it's the right size and it works with their plaid couch."

I am nonplussed. "Well, then, what are all these art museums for?"

"Somebody needs to employ the art history majors."

"Take that Basquait exhibit we saw at the MFA last month -- all his scrawled treatises, formulas, crowns, bones, male members. That's pretty rich stuff. There's got to be something to it."

"Durned if I know. He's dead, so we can't ask him."

"Well . . . you'll be dead one day. We won't be able to ask you then, either."

"Yep."

"In that case, I'm going to ask you some 'what for' questions now. Like, what was the inspiration for Winter Roses?"

"I needed one more painting for the February American Classic Art Auction and I happened to notice those straggly roses blooming over by the fence."

"I see a ton of Christian symbolism in that painting."

He fixes me with a derisively lidded look. "Oh?"

"Yes - the red rose, blooming in obscurity in the dead of winter, throbbing with beauty and life and truth, set against deepening shadows, the thorns just waiting to weave themselves into a crown . . . was any of that in your thinking as you were painting it?"

"Not really."

Since this is an imaginary conversation, I don't feel rebuffed.

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