Postscript to The engaged subject Part 1: Expression of emotions

September 17th, 2008
Portrait of Olivia by Judith Dickinson. See post below for larger image and discussion of painting.

Portrait of Olivia by Judith Dickinson. See post below for larger image and discussion of painting.

After posting my last blog entry, I emailed Judith Dickinson, who I’d never met or talked to before. I asked her how she had decided to include the large empty space around Olivia, the little girl whose portrait I analyzed in “Expression of emotions”.

Judith emailed back such a perfect description of her intent in the painting that I asked her permission to add it here, which she readily gave. What she wrote to me expresses clearly and easily what I had struggled to find words for:

“I wanted to convey this small little girl alone in this long hallway and yet she is not distressed; in fact she is intently and comfortably aware of the bigness of life around her. [I wanted to portray] her courage and peaceful contemplation in such a “lonely” surrounding.”

So the feelings Dickinson sought to convey in Olivia’s portrait were exactly what I received in viewing it. The fact that such emotions are visible even in her small, 72 dpi website image of the painting tells me how successful Dickinson was in conveying what she wanted. She used every element of the portrait – Olivia’s face, body, and clothing, and the overall composition of the painting – to express her meaning.

Interestingly, Dickinson’s painting merges the two subjects I’ve written about in recent posts: the expression of emotion in portraits, and the use of very large space around the subject. The way Olivia relates to the empty hallway around her – her facial expression and the way she holds her body in the space – adds to the emotional impact of the painting.

By the way, looking at the painting again, I’ve realized the importance of the distance between Olivia’s uplifted chin and her hands in expressing her openness to life. While her arms are relaxed, they’re also stretched out as far as possible in pleasure, framing her little torso. The chin, raised as distant as doable from her hands, exposes her torso maximally, leaving her little body entirely, self-confidently open to whatever will come.

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