Recently I went to the Toledo Museum of Art with some students. I always seem to notice something new even when visiting a museum I’ve been to before, and this time was no different.
George Inness’ painting September Noon caught my attention this time, as did the quote from Inness on the placard next to the painting:
“The purpose of the painter is simply to reproduce in other minds the impression which a scene had made upon him.”
The plainness of the Inness’ language belies the complexity of his statement. It is no small thing to allow another person to step inside one’s skin and feel what one feels. It’s almost akin to a magic trick. If I can make someone not only see what I see through my eyes but also feel what it’s like to be me, Rachel, looking at that scene, that is something much greater.
Perhaps part of the way Inness accomplished this trick was in the way he applied the paint to the canvas. Inness’ early paintings contain sharp details, but his later works, such as September Noon, are painted with a soft focus. Everything seems to be seen through the haze of a dream or a memory, and, indeed, when I’m looking at these paintings I can imagine that I am looking through another person’s eyes. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m hearing someone tell a story about something that happened to him or her a long time ago. The details are lost, but the essential sentiment remains.
Regardless of Inness’ methods, however, it strikes me that in his quote he has hit upon one of the tasks of the artist: taking a viewer outside of himself and allowing him to, temporarily, become someone else.