There Is No Need To Judge

Judge Elena Maslova-Levint Shasta.
Elena Maslova-Levin. Mount Shasta. Oil on gallery-wrapped linen canvas, with edges painted, 20″×10″. Signed on back. 2015.

All too often, we judge — things, events, other people, ourselves — not only without pausing to think whether there is any need to do so but occasionally without even noticing that we do. I had a dream last night. I dreamt I was standing on a street, with a huge truck passing by. Something happened, like a bump on the road, and the truck’s rear doors flew open just in front of me. Behind them, the whole back of the truck’s load was covered with paintings. My paintings, specifically: some I recognized clearly, others seemed less familiar, but I knew they were all mine. Mostly landscapes (I include some of those I recall as illustrations).

As the doors opened, all these paintings — a couple dozens of them — fell onto the ground in a messy heap. The truck stopped, and two or three guys went round to see what happened. I asked them why these paintings were there, unpacked, not even fastened to anything. They explained that the paintings used to be the packaging material for some precious musical instrument. They were not needed for that purpose anymore, but “these are kind of good, too”, he said (I remember this turn of phrase), so they didn’t want to throw them away. I know, I said, because they are mine.

And so I ask them to give the paintings to me, after all, it can hardly be a random accident that this mishap happened right in front of me, can it? They hesitate but then agree and leave. Standing there, wondering what to do with the paintings now, I woke up.

I read recently that dreams show us “in the third person”, as something “out there”, things that we don’t want to acknowledge and accept “in the first person”, as a part of our own inner space. If so, then it is really me — not the cold world out there — who thinks of them as just some packing material for a musical instrument. And the musical instrument? Is it me, too? Or something precious in myself that I hide with paintings from the cold outer world? Do my paintings cover or conceal something (rather than reveal)? Is there a difference?

Who Judges The Work Of Art?

This dream reminded me of a quote from Maria Mitchell’s “A life in journals and letters” I came across a couple of days ago on “Brain Pickings”:

“Who judges a work of art and sees only with his own eyes? Who listens to a lecture and hears only with his own ears? We turn aslant as we stand before the picture to see what good judges are looking. We open the guide book to see what we ought to admire…. Insensibly our judgment is inspired by that of those around us. It is not a weakness to be deplored. We were more than conceited did we rate ourselves so much above the rest of the world that we needed no outward aids to judgment. We were born dependent, our happiness is in the hands of others. Our character is molded by them and receives its coloring from them as much as our feeling relates the parental impress.”

I remember the time when I would have read this nodding my head in agreement. People who would proudly proclaim their independence of others’ judgments seemed to me simply unconscious of their own dependencies, while the most brilliant and independent people I knew were, just like Maria Mitchell, very much aware of them.

Judge Elena Maslova-Levin. At forty Five
Elena Maslova-Levin. London. Oil on gallery-wrapped linen canvas, with edges painted, 30″×20″. Signed on back. 2016.

It is indeed not a weakness to rely on “outward aids to judgment”, and especially for knowledge (as when we open a guidebook in an unfamiliar city). But there is a weakness here, and it is in the very compulsion to judge. As we stand before a picture, there is no need to judge. So there is no need to look away from the picture so that the only thing we see is not the picture itself, but the opinion of “good judges”.

And this is why this quote resonates with my dream. There was a judgment on my paintings in the dream: they are “kind of good”. And it is, quite evidently, my own judgment; and, for me, “kind of good” is not good enough.    

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Elena Maslova-Levin
I studied painting as a young girl (growing up in St.Petersburg, Russia), but then abandoned it for the study of languages. I spent twenty years of my life fully immersed in the life of the mind, studying linguistic diversity and language universals. It is only when I returned to painting that my sense of vision was set free again. My visual reality is becoming brighter, more colorful, more beautiful every day