What does a Butterfly See?

Dye and watercolor stain on paper

What does a Butterfly see? 14″x18″ water dye on illustration board

So what does a butterfly see?  Do you know what you think you see?  If I paint a butterfly, should I paint what I see or what I feel about it?  But when you look at the painting, it should remind you at least of how you feel about butterflies, or if not, maybe you get how I feel.  Must we paint what we think some one else might want to see?

A butterfly probably doesn’t have an opinion of how it should appear for its portrait.  There are no pictures of people hanging in butterfly houses . . . oh wait, there are no butterfly houses!  Don’t think I am being silly, I think this is at the core of all good art. The ability of this little creature to feed, flash color, reproduce and flourish, avoiding extinction long past the dinosaurs, has more to do with its collective beauty than it does with it’s brain (it doesn’t have one).
Collective beauty because: The Native American Indians did not speak of bears, they spoke of “bear” as if all bears made one creature called bear. Grass was not blades of grass, it was grass, one thing; the trees and flowers were all known as grass, as we call it flora; they call it grass, one thing with one common life.  One entity, living as many things from many places, as trees, as flowers, as weeds, it is all grass.
Bird meant all birds as one entity, fish the same thing, one fish.  To give honor to the one thing was to ask for a single bear or a single fish or bird to be taken from the whole as food, and because they, too, were part of the whole, living in harmony of the one thing, it was acceptable to take from self.
The collective creature is somehow sentient with the ability to exist in a collective world where most every other creature would see a butterfly as food, we see it as inspiration worthy of decorating our lunch boxes, stationery, t-shirts, and bed sheets.  In the end, we study, protect, cultivate and will probably make sure this time to get it on the next ark, (unlike the unicorn which missed the boat).  Like the stripes on a tiger, there is a reason for decoration and style.
There is a good book about this effect called the
Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, TED talks
So, why be shy in painting a butterfly?  it represents our highest hopes for our own societies.  It is like the rainbow, or the four leaf clover, or even the moon.  Celebrate your love of design and art, paint this beautiful bug.

3 thoughts on “What does a Butterfly See?

  1. Charlotte Hoather

    Hi John, I absolutely love the use of colour in this picture. I have been experimenting with some butterfly images of my own which I have used inside a deep a frame as they give a great feeling of depth.

    Best wishes

  2. Pingback: Large Salmon Arab Butterfly | Winged Beauty

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