Shaping the Gift of Reality


Long before encountering a palm tree, years before skimming across watery ribbons of lapis and azure entwined through the heart of Caribbean islands, lifetimes before walking entangled and thorned into tumbles of bougainvillea and the shadows of tropical dreams, I loved Winslow Homer and his art.

A prolific and engaging American watercolorist, Homer (1836-1910) moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. Despite his love of the New England coast, he often vacationed in Florida and the Caribbean. His mastery of his medium and his unique vision of the islands produced exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, palm-fringed beaches and great, vivid falls of blossoms redolent of nutmeg and honey.

During a first visit to the Caribbean, I was intrigued to discover how completely its marvelous realities entangled themselves in my mind with Winslow’s work. It seemed impossible to separate the threads. I had expected to think, “Winslow Homer’s painting looks like this.” But as I gazed about, wriggling my toes into sugar-soft sand and tasting the salt-heavy air, I came to a rather different conclusion. The Caribbean looked liked Winslow Homer. It was as though the artist himself had absorbed, intensified, and re-presented the sea, sand and sky in such a way that his paintings were distillations of the islands – purer than reality itself.

That same distillation of reality was a hallmark of another iconic American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe. Saturating her bold, idiosyncratic forms with color ethereal as a swallowtail’s wing yet intense as a mesa sunrise, she created images which seem illuminated from within, leaving the viewer convinced reality is no more than a poor reflection of her art.

In Georgia O’Keeffe: Arts and Letters, Jack Cowart notes O’Keeffe admitted to carrying shapes around in her mind for a very long time until she could find their proper colors.  As O’Keeffe herself acknowledged, “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me, shapes and ideas so near to me, so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.”

As a result of that stripping-away process, she often seems to have been the first person truly to see Taos or Abiquiu, the first to delineate the heart of the Chama River, the first in the world truly to capture the essence of morning glory, jimson or rose.

Like Winslow Homer, her images can appear more real than reality itself. It’s as though the world arrived on her doorstep saying, “Come here. Let me show you my heart, so you can convey it to the world.” Looking at her 1938 painting of two jimson weed blossoms, it’s impossible not to say, “Georgia O’Keeffe did that.” On the other hand, her way of seeing the world has so deeply influenced our own that when we take time to look at an extraordinarily vibrant flower blooming in a friend’s garden we say, “Georgia O’Keeffe could have done that”.

And we would be exactly right. Neither Winslow Homer nor Georgia O’Keeffe invented the world they represent. Long before their genius manifested itself in brushstrokes, it lived as a willingness to see, an ability to enter into a deeply intimate relationship with the world and a capacity to allow that relationship to re-shape their vision as they committed it to canvas.

In a wonderful musing entitled Art and Perception , Richard Rothstein recalls his early days of pondering the nature of perception and artistic production:

As a young man off on his first world adventures I was stunned by the revelation that many of the great artists I admired did not invent their mysterious landscapes, colors and visual signatures of China, Japan, Tuscany and Provence. Rather they were brilliantly capturing the unique moods, colors, light and shapes that nature had already chosen to create. I remember gazing over the hills of Tuscany for the first time and thinking, “Oh! So that’s where Leonardo got that.” And I remember the day I realized that Van Gogh was “photographing” (through his unusual lens) the unique palette and landscapes of Provence.” 

An artist himself, Rothstein reflects on the confrontation with reality in terms of gratitude. “I can only speak for myself,” he says, “but I often walk away from something I’ve just photographed in Manhattan with a sense of gratitude…toward my subject.” He goes on to ask, “How much of an artist’s talent is in his ability to create [and how much in his ability to] record – not just the obvious visuals but also the mood and the energy of the subject? “

Rothstein seems to be suggesting a two-sided artistic coin, one which displays on one side the artist, and on the other the subject itself.  Say what we will about imagination, technique, or the mastery of  our creative tools. In the end it is reality dragging the artist – painter, writer, photographer, poet – over to the face of the cliff, the face of the building, the face of the nameless and forgotten ones among us, saying, “This is my gift to you. I am giving you the vision. Now, the responsibility is yours.”

It may be that the first way to recognize an artist is neither by canvas nor manuscript, but by a deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision.  Having seen the world in all of its depth, breadth and particular beauty, it may be the artists among us who are most capable of rejoicing in that vision and gratefully sharing it with others.

Winslow Homer knew the experience well.  It was Homer who said, “The sun will not rise or set without my notice, and thanks.”  Vincent Van Gogh knew it, too, saying, “I have walked this earth for thirty years, and out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir.”  Even the solemn philosophers agree. Often misunderstood as a dark and foreboding presence on the cultural horizon, Nietzsche himself once declared, “The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

To the extent that pursuit of visions and expressions of gratitude are marks of the artistic soul, we may live more closely aligned to the artists than we think.  Not so many months ago I witnessed a seven-year-old running into her house, bubbling and breathless.  “Look, Mommy!” she exclaimed, waving about a dry and slightly crumbling bouquet of yellow and brown leaves.  “Look what the tree gave me!  I’m so happy!  I’m going to make something no one’s ever seen!”

Winslow, Vincent, Georgia and Richard would understand perfectly, and they would tell us to follow the lead of that child.  Look at what the world has given you.  Do something with it.  Be grateful.

Comments are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, please click below.

And please – NO “ReBlogging”. Thanks!

Published in: on February 13, 2012 at 10:32 pm  Comments (62)  
Tags: , , , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://shoreacres.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/shaping-the-gift-of-reality/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

62 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You hit on one of my all-time favorite artists with Winslow Homer. As a kid I had three of his prints thumb tacked to the walls of my bedroom:
    Breezing Up, Gulf Stream and After the Hurricane. Each of them, in their own way, fed my love of the sea.

    • Richard,

      I added links to the paintings for others who might not be familiar with these works. I didn’t know “Gulf Stream” myself. It’s hardly a romantic view of the sea – nor, for that matter, is “After the Hurricane”. But they capture parts of the whole story, and I’ve yet to find any real sailor who isn’t both fascinated and accepting of that “other face of the sea”.

      Linda

  2. I didn’t know Winslow Homer did the sea. I do remember light houses, tho. I’ll have to do some studying up.

    I love how they are all grateful for what is before them that is beautiful to behold and share. “Nietzsche himself once declared, “The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” I really love this….

    I did a life size Georgia piece “Two Calla Lillies on Pink” back in college and I learned so much by copying her work. First in value study and then the color over it. Wow, was I surprised at how much color were in those beautiful ‘white’ flowers. I still have it and love everything about it.

    Thank you again for your gift of supporting my art, Linda. It is going into the travel fund to be in Washington in July for my first biological grand-baby.
    peace n abundance,
    CheyAnne

    • CheyAnne,

      For years, I didn’t know Winslow Homer painted anything but the sea. When I started looking around and discovered pieces like this, I was completely astounded.

      Very recently I read something about color that echoed what you say about those white flowers. I can’t find it now, but the writer was talking about black – how pure black doesn’t work. There has to be some other color added in – blue, perhaps, or green. It may not be obvious, but it’s necessary for the black to be “alive”.

      One of the things I enjoy most about your blog is being able to watch things evolve. For those of us who aren’t painters, being able to watch the process is part of the fun – part of what we’re grateful for! As for the support – even blue-collar sorts like to play Medici from time to time!

      Linda

      • I learned through the years of painting and photography, that all colors are reflected in others. You are absolutely right about black being alive. I don’t even own black or white for that matter. When we look at blue sky we can see all the colors of Earth reflected in the clouds just as the ‘green’ land is loaded with all the reflections from the sky and all the other colors around. A good painting (to me) has that blue or that green everywhere in the painting to tie it all together.

        I am glad to get your feed back on posting unfinished pieces, showing what I have done so far. Thanks for that. Sometimes I’m not so sure I should, but if you enjoy it thats good enough for me. How’s the travel bug lately?
        Anything on the horizon?
        peace and abundance my friend,
        CheyAnne

        • CheyAnne, I think the question of posting-in-process may be a piece-by-piece decision. I also follow an artist named GC Myers who recently has been posting about a large canvas he’s working on. He expressed some of the same ambivalence about showing an unfinished work – you might enjoy looking at his site.

          My situation is different, of course. I don’t hit the “publish” button until my blog entry is complete. I do go back now and then to correct typos, mis-spellings or such, but once it’s there, it’s there. I keep saying this is the year I want to try a longer piece, but even then, I wouldn’t publish it in any form until it is done.

          No travel for a while. The good news is we’re getting some rain, but the bad news is that keeps me from working. Once the days get longer and the weather settles, I’ll get caught up a bit and start pondering. What’s that old saying? “Go West, old woman”?

          Linda

          • What about parts of a longer piece? Longer pieces have more sections, like chapters or such yes? or maybe not? You write beautifully and the way you pull it all together is the key for me. Personally I find it hard sometimes to concentrate, but that’s just because I have a purpose and I’m really loving it.
            Go West can be a very Enchanting Time, if you’ve never been. The further west and south the better for me. All tho Tulum is pretty South from here and that’s where my heart can’t wait to get back too….❤

  3. “a deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision”

    Yesterday as I was making lunch my four year old ran into the kitchen so excited she was almost vibrating and said, “Noni, Noni come see! I painted! I painted everything!”

    When I followed her into her room she jumped up on the window seat and said, ‘See, it’s beautiful all the places.”

    Chocolate milk on the floor, the desk, her toys, her blankets and in huge swathes all over the walls. Chocolate milk all over her windows so “all the people outside can see”. Then she cried when I went to clean it up. I had to promise that we would make paintings to put on her walls before she would stop crying.

    I normally read your essays when everyone else is busy and I can enjoy them in peace and quiet with a good cup of coffee but this morning after seeing the paintings and photographs I put the kidlet on my lap and she looked at them with me. She fell in love with the Homer beach one. Now all I have to do is convince her to paint palm trees on paper – not on her bedroom walls.

    • Kit,

      There’s so much here to love – especially your kidlet’s impulse to share her chocolate milk paintings with the outside world. What artist doesn’t want “all the people outside” to see? When we’re grownups, there’s always that business about business – get into a gallery to make money to pay the bills and buy more paint – but I’ve known a fair number of artists who still experience sheer, unadulterated joy in creation, and the impulsive need to share what they create.

      And what better on Valentine’s day than for her to fall in love with a Winslow Homer painting? The ability to fall in love, over and over, with the world and all its delights ought to be a part of our celebration. Romantic love’s a great thing, but it’s far from the only thing. That image would make a wonderful Valentine card – her, on your lap, entranced by the work of a great artist.

      Good luck channeling those creative impulses!

      Linda

  4. Things change and then they change back (or the math-minded might say that the negative of a negative is a positive). You quoted from Richard Rothstein:

    “As a young man off on his first world adventures I was stunned by the revelation that many of the great artists I admired did not invent their mysterious landscapes, colors and visual signatures of China, Japan, Tuscany and Provence.”

    My impression is that Rothstein had until that moment accepted the trope, well established in our way of thinking and speaking, that “life imitates art,” or that the artist creates reality. Then, suddenly, Rothstein saw that negated and was hit with the simple and undeniable truth: the world was here before we were.

    • Steve,

      I’ve been thinking recently about life imitating art, and have come to the conclusion that a better phrasing might be “life informs art”. The reciprocal would be true, of course – “art informs life”. I’ve watched such movement between life and art over the past months. Eventually a painting will be completed, and when that happens, I’ll write a bit about it – an amazing tale from the internet age.

      As for the world, I don’t think there’s anyone better at communicating the “otherness” of the physical world or its resistance to sentimentality and manipulation than Annie Dillard – a pretty good artist in her own right. Her ability to distinguish between the life of the mind and life in the real world is unmatched. Much of “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” is nothing more than a reminder to her readers that “the world was here before you were”.

      Linda

      • “Life informs art” is a good way to put it, especially since art deals with the forms of things.

  5. Nice post. Homer and O’Keeffe are two of my favorites. Happy Bloggentines Day

    • philosophermouse,

      Oh! Glad to have provided two treats for you – both are wonderful artists. And thanks for the greeting. Bloggentine’s Day is a new one for me – but why not? It’s a warmer and fuzzier world here in cyberspace than we ever could have imagined!

      Linda

  6. The image of the little girl made me laugh out loud – and wish that I had been just such a creator as a child. I guess I did, in my own way, with words. But I have cousins who are true artists & always felt I’d missed out. However, I can certainly appreciate the art now even if I can’t make it!

    • Bug,

      I loved looking at your cousins’ site, and learned something in the process – the derivation of the “piggy bank”! I still throw my spare change into a piece of pottery – an old sugar bowl – and it was an amazement to see how my common gesture evolved into those piggy banks.

      There is something satisfying about painting, sculpture and such that’s just different than writing. I still remember my Ivory soap carving of a squirrel with great affection. But I share your view on things – I make a great appreciator, even if I can’t do it myself!

      Linda

  7. Having liked Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings for decades, I’ve occasionally wondered if they’ve had any influence on my photography; I’d say not consciously, but I can’t rule out subliminally. In the eight months that I’ve been posting pictures of native wildflowers, three commenters mentioned a connection in two photographs:

    Details of a Bluebell Flower

    Purple Bindweed Flower

    Were those commenters so used to an O’Keeffe-esque vision of the world that they projected it onto the photographs, or did they detect something of O’Keeffe that was actually there? ¿Quién sabe?

    • Steve,

      That’s very interesting. I’d not seen the Bluebell before, and when I opened the page, my first thought was of O’Keeffe, just as it was with my friend’s photo of her purple petunia. On the other hand, I couldn’t find O’Keeffe in the Bindweed even when I went looking for her, so there you are.

      One of my favorite O’Keeffe quotations seems relevant here:

      “I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see – and I don’t.”

      Linda

      • My reaction is the same as yours: I can O’Keeffe-ness in the picture of the bluebell, but not particularly in the one of the bindweed.

        Your O’Keeffe quotation is apropos. If I remember correctly, she was refuting people’s claims of eroticism in her flower paintings, but could this be a case of “The lady doth protest too much”?

        • Eroticism surely was an issue, but in the end it turned into such a “they-said-she-said” that it’s impossible for me to judge. But in this case, the context was slightly different. In a 1939 exhibit catalogue, she was quoted as saying, “When I paint a red hill, you say it is too bad that I don’t always paint flowers. A flower touches almost everyone’s heart. A red hill doesn’t touch everyone’s heart.” The quotation above was from the same time period.

          As Joan Didion pointed out in her essay on O’Keeffe in “The White Album”, some women fight and some don’t. I think this just was Georgia in her best fighting mode.

  8. I love this post (do I say that all the time? If I do, it’s true all the time!). Here I was today (this is true!) still thinking about pimento cheese, how much I’d like to have it, how little possibility there is I’ll ever make it (easy though I know it is), when I read this: “O’Keeffe admitted to carrying shapes around in her mind for a very long time until she could find their proper colors.”

    So, I’ll just keep carrying around that pimento cheese in my mind, what the hey?

    And then I read on a little further and there was this:

    “Long before their genius manifested itself in brushstrokes, it lived as a willingness to see, an ability to enter into a deeply intimate relationship with the world and a capacity to allow that relationship to re-shape their vision as they committed it to canvas”.

    Good as that was, it wasn’t all, for there was a child, knowing best of all what her natural treasure, carefully gathered, meant: “I’m going to make something no one’s ever seen!”

    May we all do that at least once in our lives, right?

    • Susan,

      First, I have it on good authority from my pimento cheese guru in South Carolina that the best commercially made is “Palmetto Cheese”. It’s available across New York state in all Stop and Shops outlets. We aim to please. ;)

      It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning to juxtapose that leaf-gathering child and the writer of the book called Ecclesiastes, but there’s quite a conflict there, between “I’m going to make something no one’s ever seen” and “there’s nothing new under the sun”. So much of our daily language reflects the view of Ecclesiastes – I’m thinking of expressions like “So what’s new?” and “It’s just the same-old same-old”.

      Whether it’s the new composers you highlight, or photographers learning to utilize new digital tools or someone like Chihuly turning glass into something magical, it may be that the first step is saying “Phooey!” to the idea that everything worth doing has been done.

      Shoot – even words can be rearranged in new and different ways. See: William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Twain, Pablo Neruda, Chinua Achebe. They didn’t just represent worlds – they created them. In the end, that may be the draw of blogs – it gives us a first taste of what it could be like to make that “something no one’s ever seen”.

      Linda

      • Palmetto cheese! Well, I may just have to go into one of those dreaded Stop ‘n’ Shops to get me some. But more to the point, your observations here and over my way just keep on so rich! I’ve finally got my own act together to write comments in response, as you’ll see. One thing I meant to mention and forgot–have you seen the documentary “Ghost Bird,” that I mention in the Cello on a Wire post? I thought of you several times–it seemed so much something you might have been the one to uncover and write about. (Loved the Singing Revolution–just watched that tonight, and thanks.)

        • I haven’t seen “Ghost Bird” yet, but it’s on my list now that I know about it. Recently I ran across a piece about the existence of a “ghost orchid”. There seem to be a lot of ghosts abroad in the land. It’s worth thinking about.

          I forgot to mention – if you like linking up with history, you can find Marketa Hancova here. I’ve already done that, so I may try to link up with the ghost of old man Bailey out on his prairie. Stay tuned.

          • Staying tuned guaranteed. And PS, I want you to know, lest you thought it was idle chatter, that I did dispatch myself to the grocery store and located some pimento cheese. I can verify that it would be better to make it, but, as I would be the only one to eat it in our house (it’s all right, my mate is the only one who like Marmite . . .), I’m glad to have a bit of the store-bought sort and have had it now for lunch 3 days in a row!

            • It makes me marvelous happy to know you are in possession of pimento cheese. The Southification of the North proceeds!

              And here’s a little lagniappe for you. Colin Firth has signed with Audible to read Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair”. Audible’s founder, Donald Katz, told the Observer: “Colin Firth could read me the back of a Marmite jar and I would listen.”

  9. As we look out at the world, at each glance, or at every stare, our perception is our own individual reality. I think the real artist is one who has very beautiful perceptions and consequentially his art becomes very beautiful reality.

    • montucky,

      I think a common mistake is to assume those with more “interesting” or even “majestic” views necessarily make better art. I used to think spectacular scenery, like that which surrounds you, was a necessary component to compelling photography. I’ve learned better.

      I’m thinking particularly of two photographers I know in Kansas. At first glance, there’s not much in Kansas to catch the attention. But their willingness to take the time to really look, to hone their perceptions, produces stunning photography – proving your point.

      And of course the reverse is true. Turn me loose in Montana with a camera and unless luck intervened the result would be a nice series of “and here’s the mountain we saw” snapshots! ;)

      Linda

  10. I LOVE the first two artists you have chosen, Linda, and then the ones who follow as you weaved together this intricate, artistic fabric. To end with that child’s quote is the fringe to top this off. And what Van Gogh said, “I have walked this earth for thirty years, and out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir.” It doesn’t get better than that!

    • Ginnie,

      And let’s be frank here – a Facebook posting or Tweet isn’t a souvenir. I’ve been thinking about this since Sue’s post yesterday. A vision or memory is best passed on in physical form – as you surely experienced when you unpacked your treasures from the glassblower’s studio.

      As for the child and her vision, I keep remembering this tale from Martin Buber.

      “Rabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher Rabbi Elimelekh that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbi Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that too. Later on you don’t see those things anymore.'”

      But the souvenirs we produce help us to remember them.

      Linda

  11. As usual you’ve written another great essay full of food for thought.

    As both a painter and a photographer I find the question of reality difficult to pin down. What is reality? Whose reality? Which reality? What are the criteria that define reality?

    A painting is made over time and is the result of thousands of decisions. The painter puts something in and then decides no, that isn’t working and takes it out and tries a different stroke or color. This process goes on for hours, days or even weeks. And finally the painting is finished, or just as often stopped or abandoned. Eventually it is reinterpreted/perceived by whomever comes before it–filtered through the “realities” of their time, education, life experience, culture and bias.

    Looking at a painting one may be struck by how well it seems to convey (in the viewer’s mind) the reality of what it re-presents–a grove of trees, a rock wall, a child’s face etc. But there is also the “reality” of the paint itself–its texture, sheen, transparency, opacity etc. And there is the ineffable experience of how it actually felt for the artist to make the painting–her or his personal reality.

    Then too there is the question of the artist’s integrity. Is the painting a genuine expression borne of deep observation and feeling or merely the result of style and technique expertly and convincingly applied? The viewer may believe they can tell the difference, but I submit that many viewers are fooling themselves.

    Where in all this can one say definitively, “that is the reality?”

    • Mike,

      I’m always amazed at the similarities in process among the arts. When you talk about those thousands of decisions – choosing a different stroke or color – you could just as well be talking about the writing process. Words get selected, rejected, re-arranged. Then, as the piece develops, the changing context often leads to changing words yet again.

      And of course there is the mystery of declaring a piece “finished”. The best times are when the piece itself says, “Enough!” One more word, one more brushstroke, would ruin it. I’ve come to think that stopping is a learned skill, too.

      Interesting that you mention the “reality” of the paint itself. This has been my year to begin appreciating that aspect of painting – and it surely does add to the viewing experience to understand at least a bit about techniques.

      When I think of integrity, I most often think in terms of wholeness – with art as an outward expression of inward realities. I’ve quoted Jaron Lanier a few times recently, because I think he’s dead-on with his observation that, “If you listen first and write later, then whatever you write will have had time to filter through your brain, and you’ll be in what you say.” I suspect the same holds true for other artists. I don’t see any reason you couldn’t change “listen” to “look”, and “write” to “paint” and be just as on-target.

      Linda

  12. My gracious, this is well-written in an artistic vision and perception, Linda. This was food for my artistic soul. Thank you.

    This I really like that you wrote:

    “Neither Winslow Homer nor Georgia O’Keeffe invented the world they represent. Long before their genius manifested itself in brushstrokes, it lived as a willingness to see, an ability to enter into a deeply intimate relationship with the world and a capacity to allow that relationship to re-shape their vision as they committed it to canvas.”

    I really needed to read-“hear” your writing today as I have been pondering about ‘gifts’ and how one’s gift-vision is expressed.

    • Anna,

      I suspect every one of us spends at least a little time each day thinking about how best to develop and share our gifts. Even if we’re not conscious of it, every time we pick up a camera or brush, every time we sit down at the computer to write or process, we’re involved in a dialogue with ourselves that sometimes boils down to, “What the heck am I doing, anyhow?” ;)

      Every now and then I go back and read the first entry I posted here. Sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I grow a little pensive – but one thing’s for sure. I got the title right, and what I wrote four years ago still applies in many ways today. My technical skills have improved, but many of the questions that were swirling then are still around. I think the answer for me is “more writing” – a variation on this timeless wisdom – especially since a little humor always adds a sense of perspective about all this!

      Linda

  13. Linda,
    Well you knew this story would really touch my soul being an artist myself!
    I just loved every word!
    You have a way of making me read your stories and then I look at things differently. Learning new perspectives is always good.
    Thank you so much for always being such an inspiration!
    Patti

    • Patti,

      One of the things I appreciate about you is that you don’t just learn and expand your horizons for yourself – all of it gets passed on to those wonderful grandkids. When I think of your “discovery days”, and everything you introduce them to – well, it’s pretty darned inspirational, too.

      You may not have noticed that the purple petunia is Proserpina’s. One of these days I’ll have to use a piece of your art as an illustration!

      Thanks for stopping by – have a good “workweek”.

      Linda

  14. Ah, gratitude. The root of everything good. That, and enthusiasm, like your friend’s little girl, “Mommy, look at me! Look what I did!” When do we unlearn that? How easy, in our cynical, post-modern, uber-technological age, it has become to forget to be grateful. To literally “lose heart.” I’m reminded of Rilke, whose heart always exceeded him, but cannot locate the proper passage…

    Lately, I’ve been grateful for the openness of the winter sky, knowing there’s a song there, but unable to hear it. Learning to see, to hear, to smell, taste, touch in a true and lasting way is everything. Children do it naturally; the rest of us must be reminded. Yes, Annie Dillard does this extraordinarily well. And so, my friend, do you.

    Thank you.

    • ds,

      I suppose at heart gratitude springs from an understanding that the first gift is life itself. We didn’t earn it, buy it, or create it – but here we are, and we spend the sum of our years either accepting or refusing all the other gifts life has to offer. Of course life can be a pain, in every sense of the word, but even in the worst circumstances there are occasions for gratitude.

      I think we do learn to be “dis-spirited”, to lose heart. Heavens – cynics and snarks abound, and they often seem intent on destroying happiness wherever they find it. As for all the gadgets that people obsess over – there are good purposes for them, of course. They also tend to isolate people, and reduce the kind of enthusiastic sharing that children are so good at.

      I wish I could have shared the red-winged blackbirds with you today. I thought the huge, migrating flock was all grackels, but when they settled and started to feed, I heard the blackbirds singing – they were hanging on to the boat rigging as comfortably as if they were in a field of grain. In the midst of all the terrible troubles of the country, I was so grateful to see the cycles of nature continuing – soon, you’ll have your spring, too!

      Linda

  15. I enjoyed this essay so much and have thought about it for several days before commenting. Once again, you have written such a wonderful reflection and titled it perfectly.

    At an early age I was struck by the reality painted by Johannes Vermeer. There was a book of his paintings in my parents’ home and a copy of one in my Dutch grandmother’s home. It wasn’t until 1996-97 when I visited an unprecedented exhibit of over 25 of his works (he only produced a relatively few number, just over 30) at the Washington Gallery of Art that I learned a secret to his capturing the reality that surprised me.

    He devised a camera like object to view just parts of the whole. Focusing on each part he produced what I thought looked like photographs capturing not only “real” images but a lovely sensitivity that seemed spontaneous for old masters. He is linked with perhaps knowing Van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope and he lived in the age of Newton who did much work in creating lenses. Rembrandt and Velázquez also, have captivated me with their use of light and their painting of everyday subjects. Some art historians suggest that Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt, was a teacher of Vermeer.

    At any rate, Vermeer combined/synthesized/distilled his Holland in such a human way, I can see how his vision from the 17th century stirred up renewed interest and even re-discovery of him in the 20th century, i.e. the 1996-97 exhibit.

    • Georgette,

      I came to Vermeer very late, and still know too little of his life or approach to his work. I appreciate so much your willingness to take the time to explain his use of “focused viewing” – what an intriguing technique. We who live in the digital age can be a little self-congratulatory about our cleverness in the use of technology. But here we have Vermeer, happily using the newest technology of his age to move his chosen art forward.

      I can’t help but think of another painter who took such care to notice the details – John James Audubon. I was startled to learn that his art walked hand in hand with the science of it all – particularly his use of dissections to learn the most intimate physical details of the birds he painted. Having taken them apart, bit by bit, he put them back together in a most wonderful way.

      I suspect that you’ve read Tracy Chevalier’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring”, or seen the movie. If not, you’ll enjoy Arti’s review of both, here, and even if you have, the reviews are well worth a read.

      I’m always interested in what artists have to say about their work. In Vermeer’s case, I couldn’t surface a single quotation. Apparently, he let his brush do the talking – and aren’t we glad of it?

      Linda

  16. Beautiful writing, Linda. And yes, it’s got to be about seeing — really seeing. That’s how they do it, I’m sure. And then, you’d have to be grateful for what you’ve been given to work with…

    • Andrew,

      Thank you for the kind words. For someone who’s not an artist, I surely do enjoy thinking about such things! But in the end, creativity is creativity, and what nurtures it for one seems to nurture it for all, regardless of the chosen medium.

      It strikes me that one of the ironies of “seeing” for a street photographer is that the inattention of people helps you to capture the delights spread out before you! Lovers in a park, a couple at a café, a gallery-goer – intent on each other, or the subject at hand, they often seem not to notice that someone is seeing them!

      Linda

  17. Linda — Just discovered you via Wild Bill. You’ve given me so much to consider here, I don’t even know where to begin commenting. I do know this: I’ll be back (with something a bit more put-together to say, I hope). :)

    • Emily,

      I’m so pleased that you dropped by! Don’t worry one bit about having to dress up your comments. We run around this place in slippers and robes half the time, and you’re perfectly welcome to come as you are!

      I’m just glad you enjoyed the post. There’s quite a variety in the archives, including a good bit that’s nature-related. Just tuck a word or two in the search box and you may find something else of interest. And there will be some mention of Minnesota, soon. I was there last fall, after taking my mother’s ashes to Iowa for burial. I even got to see the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth!

      Feel free to come back any time. You’re always welcome!

      Linda

  18. During my freshman year of college, an artist who worked mainly with watercolors gave a talk about his work. I still remember a painting of a girl whose forehead captured a bit of reflecting light. It looked so natural, yet it was the central point of interest in the painting. I would have begun to wonder how many years of training and practice it would take someone to pull that off, except that the artist explained how it’s done:

    When he put the glob of paint on the canvas, it just lit up, so he proceeded to paint a face of a girl around it.

    I never forgot that.

    Maybe art is the artist, the subject, and the accidents.

    • Claudia,

      What a marvelous story. Sometimes, things just happen – and the unpredictable isn’t always bad. Artist after artist witnesses to the truth that they aren’t always in control of the process – a glob of paint shows up, and the artist gets to work. I probably would have gotten irritated at myself for creating a mess, and wiped it off. ;)

      I suppose that’s another mark of the artist. Where we see chaos, they see the potential for creative expression. Thank goodness. Years ago, a friend was married to a graphic artist. He said, “I used to envy her ability to create such beautiful art. Now, I’m just glad someone can”. Isn’t that just the truth?

      Linda

  19. You’re so right, of course, the artistic vision, the aesthete’s perspective, the interpretation of reality. That’s one side of the coin, as you’ve put it, the artist’s response to the other side of the coin, that which is the given, the gift from the Creator. “This is my gift to you. I am giving you the vision. Now, the responsibility is yours.” So true…

    And just this morning and into the early afternoon, I was watching CNN’s coverage of Whitney Houston’s funeral, and was deeply moved and inspired. Among many touching speeches, I remember this line, now I’ve to paraphrase: “Our talents are God’s gift to us, how we use those talents in our life is our gift to God.” There’s always the side of how we respond to what’s given us so freely… and yes, gratitude could well be the starting point.

    • Arti,

      Interesting that you mention Whitney Houston’s funeral. I’ve been thinking about her a lot this past week, and the issue of responsibility as it pertains to her life and death.

      Certainly there was her responsibility to herself, her art and her audience – a responsibility she appears to have taken less seriously as she wandered off down some terribly unhappy paths. But I’ve heard people from the music industry talking about the responsibility borne by her colleagues and confidantes – people who knew what was happening but refused to intervene as her life unraveled, for a variety of reasons.

      It’s a good reminder of the need for mutual support and accountability, even within the so-called “artistic community”. Creativity and talent are no defense against some of the demons roaming around out there, and who knows what good a courageously-spoken word may do from time to time?

      Linda

  20. I think you’ll love a couple of the photos in my post coming up midweek — they are of some Homer’s from the DIA — and I agree, he’s simply wonderful. These are very different, though. Simple portrait studies. Lovely.

    What an outstanding post and how it so perfectly summarizes my feelings about art and gratitude. I can certainly tell on my own work the things slapped together to meet a deadline or just for fun compared to those I work on for a rather long while, whether in my head or physically. I was interested in the O’Keeffe about “thinking” it through. I do that with my writing, mostly. I’ll write in my head over and over. Sometimes it actually hits the machine or paper. Often, not. But when it does, it is better, more structured for it.

    This is one of those posts that don’t you wish you could have a whole bunch of people chatting about in the same room, with all that personal energy? I don’t know if you’ve seen Becca’s recent post on artistry but I’m reading those back-to-back and loving the thread!

    • jeanie,

      Help me out here – DIA? I’m guessing that’s “Detroit Institute of the Arts” rather than the “Defense Intelligence Agency” or the “Denver International Airport”, but in these days of constricting budgets for the arts, there’s no telling where some of these paintings are hanging!

      The thinking does make a difference. In one of my earliest posts – so early I thought even at the time “who the heck are you to be making these pronouncements?! – I posited that thinking and writing had to be paired – not just thinking “about”, but pondering, meditating, musing, cogitating. From what I read on a variety of painter’s blogs, the same process goes on with a painting, and it surely must with the other arts.

      As you know so well, even in the realm of craft, it isn’t enough to just pull out the scissors and glue. You have to have your materials at hand, know where they are (mostly!), know how to use them and have a vision for how to combine them. Even “simple” isn’t always easy to achieve!

      I’ve not seen Becca’s post yet, but I will. It’s so interesting to see how each of us approaches these issues.

      Linda

  21. A few years ago there was a woman servant whom displeased whom she worked for, sort of bit the hand that fed her. As expected, she and her son were banished and had no place to go other than the wilderness. After a few days of wandering around the lady sits down in exhaustion and lays the child down by some shrubs as he cried from the pain of an empty stomach and the dryness of a parched throat. The lady looked up and in desperation said, “Don’t let my child die”. Then she sat closer to her boy and leaned against him.

    Suddenly out of nowhere an Angel appeared. As the Angel comforted the boy, God opened the woman’s eyes so she could see. Directly in front of her, covered with vivid falls of blossoms redolent of nutmeg and honey, was a well with the sweetest water ever. After filling her bottle with water and giving the boy a drink she looked up through the wildlife which appeared illuminated from within and said, “Thank you”. Gen 21:19.

    Makes you wonder if we see all which is there. Maybe, with any luck, our eyes can be opened; appears it has happened before.

    • Preston,

      My goodness. What a beautiful way of approaching the post, and what an easy, comfortable way to remind us of those angels among us. Biblical angels were messengers, after all, and I think it’s fair to say that when a messenger sees reality differently than we do and is able to communicate that vision, we’re enabled to see differently, too.

      That was quite an amazing overlay you did with the nutmeg and honey. I forgot for a minute that I’d written it, and then I had to pull out my Bible to be sure I hadn’t inadvertently plagiarized Scripture. Thanks for letting me experience my words differently.

      Oh – and yes. It has happened before. I hear it happens regularly – it’s the unpredictability that’s the issue.

      Linda

  22. A Van Gogh fan here, and I feel as if I’ve lived in some of Homer’s paintings. Beautiful.

    The older I get the more I realize that gratitude is the answer to so many questions.

    • Bella,

      I’ve just recently discovered that many of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings also exist as studies – often done in pen and ink. They’re fabulous on their own, and really do give an interesting glimpse into his process.

      When you and H head off to the beach and you produce some of your photos, they look so different from the ocean photos from our area. I’m thinking of that one with the dunes and the fence – I think there was a fence? It shimmers with that special kind of “Homer light”.

      As for gratitude – gosh, yes. Sometimes it shows itself in strange forms, like a deep sigh and someone saying, “Well, it could have been worse”. But it’s still gratitude.

      Linda

  23. What an excellent post, it’s so true artists see things more intensely than other people. I would guess all the craft in the world is worth nothing in an artist who can’t see reality properly.

    Georgia O’Keeffe and Winslow Homer are two of my favourite artists.

    Juliet
    Crafty Green Poet

    • Juliet,

      And isn’t it true that art and craft go together in another way? All the vision in the world is worthless if someone isn’t willing to hone their craft.

      I’m so glad to have offered you a little O’Keeffe and Homer. Look at the video of the song Hippie Cahier brought along, below. It’s really quite wonderful and I think you’ll enjoy that, too.

      Linda

  24. My comment is likely the written equivalent of a bull entering a china shop . . or an art gallery, since this is clearly a forum for those who know what they’re talking about. (I clicked on “ShoreAcres” because I was intrigued by the name.)

    Here I go anyway:

    Perhaps it was the placement of the photograph just above O’Keeffe’s name that brought it to mind (and perhaps that was intentional on your part), but I heard the chorus of a Dan Fogelberg song, “Up Through The Branches” (actually, I’m not sure that’s the title), which was a tribute to Ms. O’Keeffe, I believe inspired by The Lawrence Tree, which was inspired by her time lying on a carpenter’s bench looking up through an oak tree on Stieglitz’s property.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      Well, you’ve got it almost right – this is a place for those who know what they’re talking about, but it’s also a place for those who would like to know what they’re talking about, and those of us who mostly don’t have a clue, but like to talk about such stuff anyway.

      I do my best to post something interesting and then (as you can see) the commenters take over. We have a pretty good time, and you’re always welcome!

      I’m especially glad you came by today, because I’ve never heard that Fogelberg song. I ran straight over to youtube where I discovered the title is “Bones in the Sky”, and there’s a marvelous video to go along with it. I thank you so much for bring it along. We needed a little music here to round things out.

      Y’all come back now, y’hear?

      Linda

  25. This is my new favorite post because I often think about all the different ways one can view the world. Science says we don’t really see everything we are looking at, our brain fills in the details. That is why I can drive past something everyday never noticing. One day I see an entire building and wonder how it snuck in there. Surely I cannot be that unobservant of my everyday commute.

    From an early age we are taught what things are and what to expect about them. This is a circle, it is always round. An indoctrination on how to see the world. Yet, our minds also see the essence of something and this is a beautiful rebellion against being taught only one way to see something.

    Children through innocence turn their visions to art until imagination is quelled by adults that want them to conform to the same everyday view of the world. As adults, those with talent and courage bring their feelings, their ethereal view of essence to art and show it to the world.

    That is why people either love the works of Georgia O’Keefe or feel uncomfortable with them. We relate. It’s the spirit vision and suddenly we have a kindred. We are no longer alone to really see the world.

    • Nanette,

      Your observation about the building – all the things that suddenly appear around us – struck quite a chord. A friend and I were in Galveston a couple of weeks ago. As we drove down Broadway, the main boulevard that leads to the Gulf, we kept saying, “Do you remember that church?” “Where did that building come from?”

      What had happened, of course, is that the loss of the beautiful, large live oaks after Ike had opened up the landscape, made visible things that always had been there, unnoticed.

      It’s impossible not to ask the question: what in our mental landscape is keeping us from seeing other treasures? Is it possible that the apparent destruction from life-storms can be turned to our advantage, and lead to even more creative vision?

      That’s sort of a rhetorical question, of course. ;)

      Linda

  26. Great post Linda. I love the lines
    “…wriggling my toes into sugar-soft sand and tasting the salt-heavy air I came to a rather different conclusion: The Caribbean looked liked Winslow Homer”.

    Also love the 7 year old who waved the bunch of dry leaves at her Mom – “Look what the tree gave me!” – and Kit Brown’s 4 year-old painting her room in chocolate milk.

    • Rosie,

      Isn’t the thought of that chocolate milk painting great? The artistic impulse will not be denied!

      Kids have so much to teach us, in so many ways. It must be wonderful to see the kids at your museum. And you know – maybe museums and art have a way of bringing out the child in us, too. I’m thinking again of the three guys doing the handstands. Maybe that had as much to do with the environment they were in as their personalities. Surrounded by creativity, they responded in kind!

      Linda


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,249 other followers