Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!
All participants were asked to spend 2 minutes to slowly explore the artwork; then we asked them to describe their experience of engaging with the painting. Initial impressions focused on the colors (so much vibrancy and contrast) followed by a sense of closeness that made it difficult to breathe, like in mid-summer when everything is so humid and overgrown and in need of thinning out — an overwhelming aliveness. Others just felt the joyousness of wanting to play or being on vacation. One likened the feeling to being in a fairytale or taken to another land – transported. As the observations deepened (and the narrative thickened), the branches seemed to appear warped and contributed to a feeling of insecurity. The descent of the path led to both open and unopened options (Can you open the gate? Where does the path to the left lead?) and visually contributed to a warped state of mind. One person interpreted addiction/depression versus the greenery of nature. The bottom half of the painting, which is the foreground, felt constrained with a green fence on the right and a wall that insists on descent. The potted plant seemed to represent a restriction to growth. The top half of the painting showed nature yearning to reach up to the light with a tangle of branches seeking freedom. But the trunks of those same trees, in the bottom foreground, were “in your face”. One person related this place to her time in Kenya where a gate was a symbol often of exclusion provoking the question about what is on the other side, and is it as lovely as what is on this side?
Asked to title the painting, our participants had many different ideas: Branches, Escape, Hope, Serene Chaos, Escape to Paradise, Tenuous Harmony, Go Where It Is Alive, Beyond the Gate and many more. Our final discussion question asked what this painting would leave you contemplating: We don’t control what’s around us, The Light, Confusion versus Structure and Freedom of Nature.
The group wrote to the prompt “Write about a descent,” and five writers shared their responses: “The Impostor” described an ascent/descent of someone having a near-death experience and returning to the body; we were aware of space, motion, and a feeling of being “pressed against the ceiling.” Next we heard of “so much anger, so much dissent/I yearn for a place of solitude. The third writer recognized a gate that separates us from them: “I descend towards structure but perhaps there lies madness.” The bright colors in the Hockney painting contrasted with the fourth writer/reader’s description of seven adjacent homes that generate “numerous arguments over various shades of gray/rotten cedar siding/trimmed in white holds us together.” The group discussed the literal and metaphorical of this vivid description. Closing out the session was a haiku invitation: “Garden of Eden/Perfection’s a bit boring/Go beyond the gate.”
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Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!