Seeing With A Grateful Eye

Flower Garden and Bungalow, Bermuda ~ Winslow Homer (1899)

Years before I encountered my first palm tree — decades before I dove into the watery azure, lapis, and turquoise ribbons connecting tiny and often unnamed Caribbean islands — I lingered in shadows of tangled bougainvillea and tumbling poinciana: a world of tropical dreams limned by Winslow Homer’s art.

One of America’s premier watercolorists, Homer moved from New York to Prout’s Neck, Maine in the summer of 1883. While his love of the New England coastline is obvious from his paintings, he often vacationed in Florida, Bermuda and the Caribbean. His unique vision of the islands, combined with mastery of his medium, resulted in exquisite renderings of sun-drenched homes, synchronized palms, and great, vivid falls of blossoms that seem to scent even the printed page.

During my first trip to the Caribbean, I had expected to think, “Winslow Homer’s paintings look like these islands.” But, as I wriggled my toes into the sugar-soft sand and tasted the salt-heavy air, I came to a rather different conclusion. Gazing around at the shimmering island, I thought, “This looks like Winslow Homer.”

It was as though the reality of the island’s sun-touched palms and beaches had intertwined so completely with Homer’s portrayal of them that separating their reality from his representation was impossible. The artist seemed to have absorbed, intensified, and re-presented the sea, sand, and sky in such a way that his paintings were distillations of the islands: in some ways purer than reality itself.

That same distillation of reality is a hallmark of another iconic American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. Her bold, idiosyncratic forms are awash with color, often so intensely saturated the paintings seem illuminated from within. Like the work of Winslow Homer, O’Keeffe’s canvases sometimes suggest that reality exists only as a poor reflection of her art.

In his book Georgia O’Keeffe: Arts and Letters, Jack Cowart considers the relationship of an original O’Keeffe to reproductions.

O’Keeffe admitted to carrying shapes around in her mind for a very long time, until she could find the proper colors for them…  No reproduction will ever do justice to the intensity, the solidity, or the high pitch of these colors.

O’Keefe, on the other hand, seemed less interested in color and more interested in the relationship of her vision to reality.

I said to myself, 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.

That process of stripping down and starting anew was both remarkably simple and impossibly difficult. In 1933, she  advised Russell Vernon Hunter:

Try to paint your world as though you are the first man looking at it — the wind and the heat — and the cold — the dust — and the vast starlit night.

O’Keeffe clearly took her own advice  More often than not, she seems to have been the first person truly to see Taos, Abiquiu, or the Chama River. In like manner, no one has conveyed the essence of morning glory, jimsonweed, or rose in precisely her way. 

Like Homer’s watercolors, her images often appear more real than reality itself. Gazing at them, it’s possible to imagine the world arriving on her doorstep one morning and saying, “Come here. Let me show you my heart, so that you can convey it to the world.”

“Two Jimson Weeds” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Her way of expressing her vision has influenced our own perception of the world so deeply that, when we meet an extraordinarily vibrant flower on the road or in the garden, we often say, “Georgia O’Keeffe might have painted that.” And quite often, we are exactly right.

Neither Homer nor O’Keeffe created the world represented by their art. Yet  their willingness to see the world as it is, to enter into a deeply intimate relationship with it, and then to allow that relationship to re-shape their vision provides a model for any artist’s approach to creativity.

In an essay titled Art and Perception , Richard Rothstein recalls his own early explorations of the relationship between 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, the 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.” Quite rightly, he asks, “How much of an artist’s talent is in his ability to create and how much lies in his ability to record not just the obvious visuals, but also the mood and the energy of the subject? “

Rothstein seems to suggest that if one side of the artistic coin is the artist, the other side is the subject itself. Reality drags the artist — the painter, the writer, the photographer, the poet — over to the face of the cliff, the face of the building, the face of the nameless and forgotten ones among us, and says, “This is my gift to you. I am giving you the vision. Now , the responsibility to carry it forward is yours.”

Café Terrace at Night ~ Vincent Van Gogh

In the end, what unites artists of every sort is neither canvas nor manuscript, neither sonnet nor score, but this deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision. However imperfect or fleeting his or her vision may be, once having seen the world in all of its depth, breadth, and particular beauty the artist rejoices in that vision, and gratefully shares it with others.

Winslow Homer knew the experience well, “The sun will not rise or set without my notice and thanks,” he says.  Vincent Van Gogh shared Homer’s impulse toward gratitude. “I have walked this earth for 30 years,” he said, “and out of gratitude want to leave some souvenir.”  Surprising as it might seem, even Nietzsche himself once said, “The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

Of course, if appreciation of the world and expressions of gratitude are marks of the artistic soul, the artists among us will be found in surprising places. Not so many years ago I witnessed a six-year-old running into her house, bubbling and breathless. Waving about a fistful of leaves, she said, “Look, Mommy! Look what the tree gave me!  I’m so happy. I’m going to make something no one’s ever seen.”

Winslow Homer, Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keefe, makers of the never-before-seen, suggest we follow the lead of that child.  “Open your eyes,” they say, “and look at what the world has given you.  Be grateful for the vision. Then, go make something of it.”

Comments always are welcome.

 

126 thoughts on “Seeing With A Grateful Eye

    1. I confess you’re one person I thought of while writing it. It occurred to me that a call to “seeing” necessarily implies a prior call to “waking.” That’s rather a delightful thought, and a reminder that the backstory of a post or painting often is as interesting as the final result.

  1. I’ve never been a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe’s and trust me, I’ve tried to like and understand her appeal. Winslow Homer, though, I’ve long been a fan of his. I’ve never thought his “Flower Garden and Bungalow’ painting that you’ve posted as representative of the usually color palette. I could be wrong. I love his moodier paintings with angry waves and boats being tossed around better. No one did water like him.

    Love this line in your essay, “In the end, what unites artists of every sort is neither canvas nor manuscript, neither sonnet nor score, but this deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision.”

    1. We all have our preferences. I actually came to O’Keeffe through her paintings of New York and New Mexico, and still prefer those over her flowers. I think it would be right to say it was her biography that snared me first; a real exploration of the paintings came later.

      I’ve been interested to watch changes over time in certain artists that I follow. Forms and color can change dramatically, for a variety of reasons, and I’m sure Homer was no different. The colors of that angry sea you mention aren’t the colors of a sun-drenched island. When I compare my photos of the Bahamas with some of his paintings, it still surprises me how well he captured what I experienced, so many years later. And I must confess his angry waves and tossed boats don’t appeal in the same way. They bring back memories, too, but those memories aren’t necessarily so enjoyable.

      That line you quoted surprised me a bit. Every now and then I come up with an insight that pleases me more than usual, and that is one.

    1. I appreciate that, Michele. One of the things I’m grateful for is the time for thought that’s part of my life. Like you, I find it helps to clarify things, and helps to bring posts like this to fruition.

  2. Well written and interesting.
    I struggle with Georgia O’Keeffe’s works, my view is possibly tainted from many childhood hours in the hot sun hoeing out Jimsonweed.
    Homer I enjoy, as he entices me to look further.
    Thanks for another great post.

    1. Just as I often enjoy certain poems but not the entirety of a poet’s work, I often enjoy paintings from one period of an artist’s life, but not others. O’Keeffe’s like that. If I could choose one of her paintings to live with, it wouldn’t be a flower, but something like this “Winter Tree,” or “Rust Red Hills.

      It’s interesting that it’s always been O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu painting that have enticed me to look further. That’s what’s important, in the end. Well, that, and an end to hoeing out jimsonweed.

  3. O’Keeffe’s New Mexico and the flatlands of Texas where I live are all of a piece of the same geography, and we get the same intense quality of light — like Klieg lights. Bright, white and intense. The colors of late summer are sunbleached egg tempera colors with great subtlety of shade. Most of the flowers here bloom in the spring when the colors are fresh, and rich and new. so no surprise O’Keeffe’s flowers have intense colors. We also get light effects — when the air is clear, the light sharply delineates details and casts stark shadows, but when there’s dust in the air, it’s like Klieg lights through cheese cloth. The colors are equally intense but the shadows are softened and detail is blurred.

    Homer’s light is light off the sea, which also has an “under-lighting” effect, reflecting light up from below. When the water is choppy, this can give a glittery, diffuse quality to the light. The under lighting tends to wash out the shadows and soften details, but intensify the color.

    1. Your comments about the quality of Panhandle light effects reminded me how much variation there can be here, depending on the level of humidity. In late summer, when the humidity is highest, even on the clearest day details are blurred, and the light seems almost tangible. In winter, after a front, it’s possible to see for miles. From the top of the Kemah-Seabrook bridge, you can see across the bay to Anahuac — past the clearly defined freighters in the ship channel to the very edge of Smith Point.

      You’re right about that light off the sea, too. When I began varnishing, I couldn’t understand for a season or maybe two why my face would be slightly sunburned after a day of looking down while I varnished a rail. Eventually, I figured it out. My face wasn’t shadowed, as I’d thought, but was picking up the reflected light from the water. So obvious, and yet not.

  4. I’m grateful to you Linda, for introducing me to Homer. “Girl on a Swing” caught my eye – swings being a firm favourite of mine. :-)

    O’Keeffe I’ve loved for years – found her not long after I began digital work, and she still inspires me. Love the story of the child and her leaves, as its essence is at the heart of things – keeping the sense wonder in our eyes and our hearts. Thank you.

    1. When I first began seeing photos of the great trees in your area, I was reminded of O’Keeffe’s “The Lawrence Tree.” Can’t you imagine a swing dangling from that tree? What an experience that would be.

      As for the child and her leaves, we need reminders like that from time to time. In a world that increasing insists that only the collective matters, she stands as a reminder of the power of the individual and particular, and of their importance.

    1. I have a couple of photos of those seed pods, and they are remarkable. What’s amusing is how long it took me to figure out what they are. I saw the pods and the buds long before I found a flower, and using search terms like “weird spikey thing on a plant that looks like a medieval club” didn’t take me very far, although the results were interesting.

      I wish someone would publish a guide to native plants that focuses on them post-bloom. So many books show only the flowers, which is nice, but not very helpful in December. Too bad I didn’t have your photo a few years back.

  5. Linda, you have written a lovely description of three great painters. For some strange reason Winslow Homer’s, Vincent Van Gogh’s and Georgia O’Keefe’s style of painting just does not grab me at all. I like very real paintings and I think their style is simply to brash for my taste. However, I do like reading about great painters, writers and such that you present here in your blog. I always learn something from each post and I thank you for that.

    1. It’s my firm belief that there are painters and poets for everyone; it’s just a matter of finding the ones that touch our hearts.

      Now you’ve made me curious; which painters do you enjoy? I have a friend who only likes the Impressionists, and another who prefers so-called folk art. Thinking about it, I’m reminded of what used to happen in our house when I was a kid, and a half-gallon of Neopolitan ice cream would show up. I’d scoop out a dish of vanilla and chocolate and leave the strawberry — which always irritated other people in the house. For you, Homer, van Gogh, and O’Keeffe are the strawberry in the Neopolitan. The only difference is that your preferences won’t irritate anyone!

  6. The next time you’re up near Amarillo, you may want to check out the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, which is where Georgia O’Keeffe taught school for a time and where she first became enchanted with the American West. The museum has some of her paintings on display.

    Along with Grant Wood, Winslow Homer was another painter my elementary school exposed us to.

    1. I have a friend who visited that museum last year, and she said it was well worth the time. There are several attractions in the area that would make the Panhandle at large a great destination, rather than simply some territory between “here” and “there.” Palo Duro’s one, of course, but the playa lakes are another, as well as the town of Panhandle itself.

      I hope children still are being exposed to great art in their early school years. Of course, there have been a few changes over the course of the years. We were introduced to Bouguereau as well, but I’d be surprised to find him in any curriculum today.

      1. I’m sure you’re right that Bouguereau would rarely get mentioned in an art history course these days, and if he were mentioned, it would probably be disparagingly. Idealized his paintings may have been, but they show a mastery of technique seldom encountered in works of the 21st century.

        The next time you’re in Tulsa, you can visit the Philbrook Museum and see this painting by Bouguereau:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shepherdess

        Wikipedia notes that it “was the central image of a travelling exhibition about Bouguereau and his students that Philbrook created in 2006.”

        1. I’ve always enjoyed that painting, and didn’t realize it was in the neighborhood, so to speak. Since I missed the Chihuly exhibit, the Oklahoma City and Tulsa museums could make for a nice extended weekend.

          1. Eve bought a refrigerator magnet of that painting at the Philbrook three years ago, then at the de Young in San Francisco last year another showing a Bouguereau painting:

            https://art.famsf.org/william-adolphe-bouguereau/broken-pitcher-53162

            While it’s tempting to lump Oklahoma City and Tulsa together, they’re far enough apart and there’s enough to savor in each that I think you’d be hard-pressed to do them justice in an extended weekend. Of course there’s no limit to how extended a weekend can be.

        1. It looks wonderful. The nice thing about a museum is that you can count on it being there when you arrive, unlike Lost Maples’ display, which seems to have taken a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse. It will be interesting to see what things actually look like. The good news is that, if the leaves are grounded and brown, the crowds surely will be less.

          1. We’d also been hoping to go to Lost Maples this year. I’d been following the online weekly fall foliage report and had phoned a couple of times for more-recent reports. The latest posted one, as you say, made it seem that things had turned bad enough for us to call off a visit this year. Since you’re already in the area, there’s no harm in checking it out. All it takes is one bright tree, or even one particularly colorful leaf, to make your visit worthwhile.

            1. Well, no Lost Maples for us. When we got there at 10 a.m., the police had everything blocked off, and weren’t letting anyone in until noon. That explained the lines of cars, the crowd at the Lost Maples General Store, etc. etc. I’m so out of touch with certain aspects of life, it never occurred to me that school districts would be closed all this week. We used to have Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after as our holiday.

              Anyway, I had no desire to sit in a line of cars for two hours, only to spend the afternoon in a park packed with people. So, we found other things to do.

              It’s an odd in-between time here in terms of foliage. The sumac is nearly gone, the sycamores have dropped their leaves, and the cypress are as dull as I’ve ever seen them. The oaks are mostly still green, with just a little color. I’d say any color will develop in another week or two, depending on the temperatures. The possumhaw and yaupon are loaded with berries, though — and the ashe juniper is heavy with pollen and berries.

              We roamed from Willow City to Kerrville, Medina, Leakey, Hunt, and Bandera, and it’s lovely, but not colorful. On the other hand, there are more deer than I’ve ever seen, including some of the most handsome bucks in the world. The Willow City Loop scored highest. If I didn’t have to go home tomorrow, I’d go back there.

  7. You never cease to amaze me, Linda! Wonderful post!! Although I am not a huge fan of Georgia O’Keeffe, I still enjoyed the museum of her works in Santa Fe — living in the moment! Thank you for knitting this piece together! Bravo!

    1. Hi becca,
      Most of O’Keeffe’s greatest works are outside of that sweet little museum in Santa Fe that you have visited. Thank you for taking my mind back to it. I rememember being surprised at the few number of paintings there. Until I read the new biography about her, I didn’t understand why. Now I do.

        1. Sorry to be so late to reply to this. Lots going on. We had our olive harvest on Saturday. Picked a half a ton of olives and pressed them for about 300 bottles. Now on to Thanksgiving for 27 and then I will rest. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Roxana Robinson’s Georgia O’Keeffe: a Life.

            1. One more thing: I downloaded this book onto the Kindle app I have on my iPad. I could not put this biography down. Although I have visited many sites in New Mexico and read a great deal about O’Keeffe, this biography illuminated so much about her. Superb work.

    2. The great thing about O’Keeffe (at least for me) is that even when her painting doesn’t appeal, many of her interviews, writings, and reflections on the creative process have value.

      She had such a strong sense of self, and it’s that individuality that I admire as much as her paintings. I’m not sure what the female version of a curmudgeon would be, but she had tendencies in that direction, and it always tickles me to see them emerge. In a world that thinks it knows what a strong woman looks like, she’s a reminder that the world’s often quite wrong.

  8. In a very practical sense, I am very grateful for my vision. Now that my eyes are ageing, I realize more and more how much I value my sight.

    Being grateful to the earth and the artist, brings this well-known hymn to mind; For the Beauty of the Earth. Like you, the writer, F S Pierpoint, is painting with words, but to me these words are as visionary as Homer’s or O’Keefe’s brushstrokes. Then there is another type of vision, a making something of it, shown by the Texas Choral Directors Association which in 1980 commissioned John Rutter to write the beautiful choral work For the Beauty of the Earth which we know now better than the original work. http://www.tcda.net/1980s

    So, in my rather clumsy way, I am reiterating your wonderfully written paragraph: “In the end, what unites artists of every sort is neither canvas nor manuscript, neither sonnet nor score, but this deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision. However imperfect or fleeting his or her vision may be, once having seen the world in all of its depth, breadth, and particular beauty the artist rejoices in that vision, and gratefully shares it with others.”

    1. “For the Beauty of the Earth” is a hymn I grew up with: so familiar I could sing it for you now, although I might not remember every line. Together with “This Is My Father’s World” (which I believe Rutter also arranged) wee Methodists were taught about the value of creation, and our role in its preservation and transformation. Wesley’s theology was ahead of its time in certain regards, and congregations made sure that children learned the importance of caring for the earth through congregational programs as well as in homes and schools. It’s not entirely wrong to say we were encouraged to be environmentalists before environmentalism was cool.

      As for the gift of physical sight, I think nearly every day about the miracle that restored mine. I say “nearly” because it’s remarkably easy to forget miracles while focusing on matters of no consequence at all, or expending our energies in distinctly non-creative ways. Better to sing a hymn, or watch a sunset, and give thanks for creativity in every guise.

  9. Ah, Vincent van Gogh. So much beauty from such a troubled mind.

    Not only is gratitude the essence to all beautiful art, it is the secret to contentment and so much more.

    1. Another example of the art-world connection in my life involves Van Gogh. A friend and I often go for brunch to the Sunflower Bakery and Cafe in Galveston. There aren’t any Van Gogh paintings on the wall, but the yellow and blue color scheme, and the sunflowers in vases, and the lovely sunflower artwork all recalls Van Gogh as surely as if he were sitting at a table ordering a croissant. It’s impossible for me to see a sunflower without thinking of him, and being grateful.

      Of course, as you say, gratitude colors life very differently than cynicism, or a host of other attitudes. I’ve known a person or two who seemed never to have experienced gratitude, and I was grateful I wasn’t them.

  10. Oh, how you touch on two subjects very near and dear to my heart — art and gratitude — along with three artists whose work I admire tremendously, in different ways and for different reasons. And I think it touches on something that I struggle with, which is finding my own original voice. To interpret my vision in the medium I wish.

    I loved it when you wrote this: “In the end, what unites artists of every sort is neither canvas nor manuscript, neither sonnet nor score, but this deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision.”

    I’m not always the best, bravest or boldest in translating that vision to paper and must rely first on the photo to make the painting and then not always so satisfied with either. And yet, as Homer and the others state, each and every day I give my thanks for all I see, feel and experience.

    Among the many things you offer in this post so perfect as we lead into Thanksgiving were these lines: “Open your eyes,” they say, “and look at what the world has given you. Be grateful for the vision. Then, go make something of it.” And that, I do try to do. And I should copy these words and hang them in every room of my house.

    And this one — “Come here. Let me show you my heart, so that you can convey it to the world.”

    You do that every time you touch the keyboard. And for that I am also grateful.

    1. Finding our own voice is such a challenge. It’s been a challenge even for the greatest, which I suppose should offer some degree of comfort. But it doesn’t make the process any easier.

      When I started this blog, some people questioned me about my stated intent: to “learn how to write.” They assumed because I could structure a paragraph, spell fairly well, and match subject and verb, there was little more to be done. But the learning has had almost nothing to do with structure, and everything to do with voice.

      As you suggest, confidence can be an issue, too. But as confidence in our selves — in our vision, our ability to express it, and our pleasure in doing so — increases, things get easier, and our vision becomes more clear.

  11. ugh; comment lost… too long in limbo on the screen, i suppose, but when i hit ‘send’ it bounced back and vanished….

    great post, worthy of more than this ‘calling card’ to stay i was here! tis late, will be back, just not sure when! – and the internet went down! buenos dias, amiga – hope that your weekend goes well!

    1. I tend to leave tabs open, too, and here’s something I’ve learned. If I refresh the tab before posting the comment, all is well. If I’ve started a comment, I copy the text and then refresh the page. Most of the time, the comment’s still there. If not, no matter, since I can just paste it in and continue on.

      In any event, your calling card always is welcome! See you when you have time, inclination, or an internet connection: any or all!

      1. well i’m back and – oops – i’ve not refreshed the page before writing this! it’s been a long day – last day of moving out of casa loca, and now i’m at the hostal.. tomorrow the drive back to poza honda….

        thank you for this timely post – i think that many people don’t realize the importance of their gift of sight… the sight via the eyes and also the inner vision that creative people often share. i think that the inner vision often is more of trust and belief in one’s ideas… ‘to trust yourself when all men doubt you’ – and smile with the ability to ‘make allowance for their doubting too.’ — and perhaps age plays into that gift….

        years ago when my eyes failed me for about 24 hours, it was a huge reminder to be forever grateful for all of my senses, but especially the gift of vision.

        1. It’s been a long process, hasn’t it? Moving always has its complications, even when communication and transportation are easy. I’m glad you’ll be able to finally really settle, and not be betwixt and between.

          I’ll never take vision for granted again, that’s for sure. The ability to see is crucial for independence, and when I had my problems with the cataracts, it was unnerving — particularly since it was a reminder of what could be coming with advanced age.The worst part was after the first surgery, when the post-surgical swelling blurred my vision, and I was suddenly sure it had failed, and I was going to end up blind, or nearly so. Of course it was all part of the process, and once I understood that, the second surgery and its recovery process was almost nothing.

          Sight and insight certainly do belong together. Isn’t it funny that as age reduces the clarity of our physical vision, our inner vision often grows sharper?

  12. Your opening photo hit me like a thunderclap! Our honeymoon was in Bermuda, and I bought a small print of that very painting. It hung in every house we’ve had since that time until …. suddenly, I realized I have not seen that here in my new house! Did I pitch it into the dumpster in Chicago in a fit of cleaning frenzy? Is it still in a closet here somewhere? Putting my consternation over its whereabouts aside, I nodded in agreement with your reflections on seeing the world and representing it in pictures and words.

    1. I’ve had a few experiences like yours with the painting. There’s nothing worse than that “whatever happened to….? feeling. It’s quite a coincidence that we favor the same painting. If you haven’t found it yet, I hope you find it soon! Thanks for taking the time to add a comment before you started digging around!

  13. I love the work of these two artists! All that vibrant color! They always make me sigh deeply and feel like the world is maybe not as crazy as it is.

    I am no artist, but I find that, for example, if you try to take a picture each day, you start looking at the world differently. (And here I mean, try to take an artistic picture – your lunch is not necessarily that picture, although it could be – ha!) Anyway, seeing art in the world is one way of lifting myself out of a chasm.

    1. Music, art, and literature — solace indeed. I’ve come to believe that the programmers found the most succinct way to express an enduring truth: garbage in, garbage out. What we take in shapes who we are, so we do well to attend to what we take in.

      I’ve had the same experience as you. Taking photos has changed the way I look at the world. It’s hard to explain, but there’s no question that I see more than I used to, whether I photograph it or not. In the same way, writing makes me more aware of words, and studying anything makes me more aware of its presence in the world.

      As for the craziness: it’s out there, no question. But we don’t have to participate in it.

  14. My readers often compliment my photographs. My clumsy response is often, “it’s really the subject. How can I go wrong?” Then they say in various ways, “no, it’s you and your gift of photography.” They are saying, ‘it’s your vision.” But I feel a bit embarrassed. How can I possibly take credit for a stunning photo of Zion, for just one example.

    But you and Richard Rothstein have clarified it for me.

    “Rothstein seems to suggest that if one side of the artistic coin is the artist, the other side is the subject itself. Reality drags the artist — the painter, the writer, the photographer, the poet — over to the face of the cliff, the face of the building, the face of the nameless and forgotten ones among us, and says, ‘This is my gift to you. I am giving you the vision. Now , the responsibility to carry it forward is yours.’”

    Exactly. So, yes, it is part me, and it’s the subject…Next time someone compliments my photography I will quote Rothstein.

    I am always grateful for the beauty I see, and always want to share it. That becomes problematic, when we are traveling to gorgeous places and there are endless subjects, all beautiful in their own way.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.

    1. I like the way you’ve expanded on Rothstein, and set what he has to say into your context. Of course it’s true that your travels are taking you to places that are going to look good even in the most off-handed photographs, but it’s also true that your way of presenting them is unique. When I see your photos, I always want to be there, wherever there is. That’s not true with all photos of the same places.

      Of course, what we write or how we form our images won’t appeal to everyone, any more that O’Keeffe or Homer will be everyone’s cup of tea. That doesn’t matter. What matters is how well our images or words accord with our own hopes for what they would be.

  15. The creative artist has little choice. He does because he must, despite him or herself. In Vincent’s case, it led him to a life of torture but even so he continues. Isn’t it marvellous how this need to give creative expression survives?

    Amsterdam has its Vincent Van Gogh museum and I remember taking my young children through it. ‘We did not know that paintings could be so colourful’ the eldest remarked. The day before we had tracked through the Rijk’s Museum which has the Rembrandts, Frans Hals’, Gerard Dou’s and many others. They all looked a bit brown compared with the Van Goghs.

    This is a very beautiful and good piece of writing, Linda. Thank you for the joy and pleasure it gave me.

    It would have been nice if Vincent had sold at least one painting in his life…but none?

    1. You’ve reminded me of the famous quotation from the high-wire artist, Philippe Petit. Asked why he continued with such dangerous and improbable work, he said, “If I see three balls, I have to juggle. If I see a wire, I have to walk.”

      I enjoyed your comment about the colorful Van Gogh’s. I remember my first glimpse of Rembrandt’s self-portrait, and my disappointment with it. At the time, I felt as though I should be more impressed, but I much preferred the Vermeers.

      Thanks for you kind words, Gerard. Joy and pleasure can be in short supply these days. If I’ve given you a bit, that pleases me very much.

  16. This is a very interesting post and provides much to reflect on. It is very true that a painting can totally influence our perception of a place, especially if we see the painting of the place first and then go there. Likewise seeing an image painted by someone very proficient and skillful of a place we have been creates a feeling of immediate memories which can crop up inspired by the artists vision.

    You might enjoy a scroll through my travel sketches…..

    http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2017/10/lost-and-found-travel-sketches.html

    Peta

    1. And even more interesting is seeing a painting of a place we’ve never been, but recognizing it immediately. They say that some places inexplicably “speak” to our hearts, and I believe that. Long before I traveled to New York City, I began collecting photos and paintings of the Flatiron Building, and when I finallty made pilgrimage to the building, it was like greeting an old friend.

      I will stop by and see your sketches — thanks for including the link.

  17. Like Homer’s watercolors, her images often appear more real than reality itself

    After my Lieutenant was reassigned, a colleague said this about her replacement, “be careful, he has a stranglehold on reality.”

    I always thought that reality itself favors a stranglehold but once we get a good grip around its neck, we can squeeze out a flood of sensations that lend themselves to art.

    1. I’ve pondered this, and still am not sure what having a “stranglehold on reality” would look like. It may be that echoes of another phrase I grew up hearing — to squeeze the life out of something — are affecting me. In any event, it is a fact that sensations are inextricably linked to art, however we come by them. It’s just never occurred to me that there would be a need to squeeze them out of life: it’s an interesting thought.

      1. The classic case for squeezing sensation out of life is that of a pilot. Sensations lie. They tell the pilot the plane is diving, even though it is in level flight. They say it is banking left, when it is banking right. It is what killed JFK Jr. He trusted his senses, not his instruments.

        In critical situations, sensations can paralyze with exaggeration or lull one into confidence. Sensations are story tellers and are not well suited to times that demand a brutal adherence to truth – and the greatest truth is “I don’t know”.

        This is not an indictment of sensation because we cannot live without art and without story.

        Sometimes, and I put myself in this boat, story become more important than truth and we convince ourselves that we are on to a greater truth, one that is not apparent. Maybe that is delusional but it is also a hell of a lot of fun.

        1. Ah — got it. Here’s an analogy that I think works: navigating a boat in fog. You have to trust your compass and your navigating, because there’s no trusting the source of sound or your sense of direction.

          1. Exactly.

            I remember the police going through countless hours of witness interviews and suspect interrogation, only to find that the witnesses were suspects and the suspects witnesses – then came the press conference and what would come out in the paper the next day?

            Story.

            A story very different from what was revealed, by painstaking truth-seeking because it had a compelling narrative.

            In that light, a stranglehold on reality becomes a Godsend.

            1. Of course, there’s always this, from Faulkner (The Town, 1957): “The poets are wrong of course… But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.”

    1. I still remember what it was like to see the books, letters, and photos after tropical storm Allison got through with them. After a time, we came to terms with the fact that saving them would be impossible, but it was a loss that stung far more than most. Perhaps, in time, some of your books can be replaced. I hope so.

  18. I’m typing this through blurry eyes, Linda — what a fantastic story of that little girl planning to create something remarkable that the world has never seen! I imagine all creative people share some of that feeling, despite the fact that nay-sayers and realists claim there’s nothing new under the sun. Maybe not, but there are certainly new ways of seeing the same old things, right?!

    I love the photos you’ve chosen for this post, too. Georgia’s flowers are amazingly lifelike, and the colors in Homer’s watercolor are spectacular. My church is trying to instill in us an “attitude of gratitude,” so I fully appreciate how necessary that feeling is in order to create.

    1. Seeing the familiar in a new way is one of the most delighful experiences in the world. Of course, the key to that experience is “seeing,” and honing the ability to see is a lifetime project. Ridding ourselves of expectations is part of it; refusing to be disappointed by what “is” probably is as well.

      Receptivity and trust no doubt play roles, too. Whether the feeling of gratitude can be instilled, I’m not sure, but openness to the world, and a belief in its essential goodness certainly can be cultivated. Here’s to more of that!

  19. Great artists you have here with a message that’s truly motivational. One of my favorite American artists is John Singer Sargent, along with Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Hopper because of the quality of light, Wyeth because of the emotion, and Sargent because of the technique. O’Keeffe of course started a whole movement in art.

    1. Hopper and Wyeth are favorites of mine, as well. Hopper’s urban and night worlds always have been especially appealing — there are some of his paintings I never see without thinking of New York, Chock Full O’Nuts coffee, and automats. Some of T.S.Eliot’s poems evoke the same feeling for me: proof positive that “urban” doesn’t have to be anonymous and cold.

      1. Hooper was a favorite of my father who was an architect. He loved the interiors and how the light fell on his human models which seemed to be the sculpturesque inhabitants from urban dwellings. However, I like Wyeth for his emphasis on natural surroundings.

  20. Peggy’s Aunt Berta was a very talented artist who lived in the Bahamas and I felt captured the islands tropical appeal very well. Many of the countries colorful postage stamps were based on her work. Her daughter has recently sent us a number Bahama handprints from her work that Peggy has been turning into quilts.
    I’ve been a fan of O’Keeffe for years and particularly like her New Mexico work since I like New Mexico so much. I too, read her biography, however, and found her New York years quite interesting. Peggy and I visited her home in New Mexico.
    Excellent post, Linda. –Curt

    1. I can’t say that I remember a particular stamp, but I do remember that, when I first became interested in my father’s extensive stamp collection, he was wise enough to begin by sharing just the “pretty stamps” with me. I know that some from the Bahamas were included. It’s fun to think that I might have seen some of Peggy’s aunt’s work, so many years ago.

      Of course you enjoy O’Keeffe’s southwestern work. Some day, I’d love to go back there. I’ve been to Abiquiu, but not to the house. When I visited the area, I didn’t bring back a reproduction of her work, but instead chose a fairly substantial red rock from the middle of the New Mexican Nowhere — my own little red cliff. In its own way, it was a foreshadowing of future interests.

      1. Hard to beat a red rock to represent the area, Linda. O’Keefe would probably agree. And it is much better than a seed from a Datura plant. People have become very sick from carrying them around!
        We have a few of Berta’s paintings looking very tropical. In fact, she gave us one for our wedding. Peggy has been having a lot of fun turning the hand prints into quilts. –Curt

  21. Thanks for the lesson. I love the O’Keeffe flowers. This statement – Gazing around at the shimmering island, I thought, “This looks like Winslow Homer.” – sounds like I feel when I see the beauty of nature. “This looks like God to me,” Of course, I do not mean it is God, as your statement does not mean it is Homer. But the works so beautifully suggest the Creator/creator. I do not care much for dark angry pictures. I love peace, beauty, and order. Great post as always, Linda. Thanks.

    1. Oneta, I suspect one of your favorite hymns must be “For The Beauty of the Earth.” It captures so well the thought that you’re expressing: that the Creator is present in the creation. I believe that’s always true — even what we write on a blog says something about who are we, regardless of the subject matter. That’s why I’ve said from time to time that I want my writing to be personal, not confessional. The biographical details matter less than the person my experiences have shaped me into. In fact, on my About page I quote O’Keefe on that very point.

      Thanks so much for visiting, and for your comments — and Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Thank you, Nia. You’re so creative, in so many ways — and your wonderful ways of seeing the world surely contributes to that creativity. Think how many people your vision has touched!

      1. Oh dear Linda, I am humbled now. Welcome and Thank you, we are all same to each other. Some people walk with the words, some others walk with the images… it is something like that but we are all in the same circle… Have a nice day, Love, nia

  22. Both Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe are excellent examples of artists with a strong vision and an ability to transform that vision into art. I agree with you that it’s this deeply personal, intensely visceral response to the gift of vision that’s the mark of a unique artist.

    1. One of my favorite quotations from O’Keeffe captures that strong spirit so well: “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.”

      Having a vision is one thing. Having the courage to stand up for that vision, and the determination to nurture it, is something else. O’Keeffe also famously said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” Such a different perspective from those who seek no more of life than safety and security.

  23. Nothing to argue with here, and it’s a nicely down to earth take on artistic vision – it doesn’t have to be about a romantic notion of eccentrics following their own way in spite of everyone else – it can be about vision and gratitude. (I love the Homer, too, and had forgotten about his Caribbean work – I’ll have to google that and feast my eyes).

    1. I never would have thought to describe this as a “down to earth take,” but now that you’ve said it, I can see it — and I like it very much. I just spent a couple of days with a friend who’s one of the most creative people I know. She lives in a rock house that she helped build, heated in winter mostly by wood she still splits. She covers the beds with quilts she still makes, and dries dishes with hand-embroidered tea towels. She nursed her husband through a years-long illness before his death at home, and still maintains her garden — although she has agreed to accept some help moving the pile of dirt that just was delivered.

      She has no computer, doesn’t drive, and yet is absolutely thriving at the age of 86. I love taking her with me when I roam her territory with a camera. Her ability to see the world around her is unrivaled, and often puts me to shame.

    1. A happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, too. I’m sure you’ll be finding your own vision renewed through this holiday season through a variety of artists’ exhibits and performances. Enjoy it!

  24. This post has given me a lot to think about. I loved the title when I first saw it. And though, as I read the post, and afterwards read the many comments, I found myself going in different directions. But it still seems to me that the message in the title was the most powerful expression of the thesis.

    In my life, I worked for a number of years at literary translations. The longer I worked at it, the more difficult it became. Because even when I succeeded in translating the meaning from one language to another, I was aware that the original writer’s voice was not always heard in the translation. Sometimes what was said between the lines was as important, and even more important than the meaning of the words that had been written.

    And then later, I became a professional photographer, and after that, had the rare pleasure of instructing others about the nature of the craft. As a photographer, I worked on reproductions, and it was then that I realized that there was no such thing as a truly accurate reproduction. One would think that scientific methods could enable us to get very close to the original. But even very close is not there. I would compare the best of the Japanese reproductions with those produced in Europe, and then worked with the finest printers to aid them in the transfer of my photography to the published books. And the process was, as we say in Hebrew, ‘a broken telephone’.

    There are so many things in this post that touched my heart and mind. The quote: Try to paint your world as though you are the first man looking at it is what spoke for me among the many precious thoughts shared here. But it seemed in striking opposition to your experience of seeing the islands as if they were paintings of Winslow Homer. Still, such paradoxes are a part of life’s adventure. If we try to remain consistent, we may defeat ourselves through good intentions.

    I loved what you said in response to marmeladegypsy. The more we learn and experience, the more we are carrying with us when we relate to a new scene or experience. And so, it is that ability to look at something with childlike innocence that helps us discover our unique voice.

    Another interchange reminded me of my own learning, and that was your conversation with Almost Iowa. I’ve always loved to hike in nature. But as the years went by, the highways became faster and more exclusive, and you could actually get a ticket for driving too slow! So I learned to appreciate being a passenger rather than a driver, and tried to make ‘riding’ a peripheral part of my trip, and devote still more of my energy and focus to walking. Last, let me underline the words you wrote, “Ridding ourselves of expectations” because I believe that that is one of the stepping stone to really appreciating sensatory experiences.

  25. I’ve always enjoyed reading articles written by people who do translation on a regular basis, whether professionally or not. Although I can’t find the source just now, I remember coming across the intriguing proposition that a translator must go beyond translating a poem, because every act of translation requires a poet. In the process of trying to source that, I came across this brief article that entranced me, and that I suspect will delight you, as well.

    Your comment about what remains unsaid between the lines in translation brought to mind one of my favorite poems: Cavafy’s “Ithaka.” The translation generally regarded as authoritative, by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, always has seemed rather wooden to me. Of course respect for the original text is critical, but the version of the poem I quoted here resonates in a far more satisfying way.

    Another good analogy for the difficulties involved in reproduction might come from the kitchen. Everyone has enjoyed a dish, and asked for the recipe. Still, even given the same recipe and identical ingredients, the results can be quite different. A few extra beats of the spoon here, a slight delay in the process there, and the cake that emerges will differ from the original in slight but noticeable ways.

    I pondered your comment about Homer and my own vision of the islands. Had my intent been artistic — had I come to the islands to capture their essence — my experience of Homer’s paintings might have been an impediment. As it was, my immediate response stands as a testament to his ability to see the islands “as if for the first time.”

    Still, what you say about the importance of accepting paradox rings true. I’ve always had a preference for “both/and” over “either/or,” and despite the tensions inherent in such a stance toward life, it seems better suited to life’s complexities.

    As for learning and vision? There’s no doubt that experience can open us more widely to the world, and sharpen our vision. The best examples I can think of come from the natural world. When I became interested in native wildflowers, I constantly was seeing photos of flowers I’d never seen: white prickly poppy comes to mind. Once I finally had found one, it seemed as though they were everywhere: scattered from the coast to the hill country. Surely the flowers had been there all along — I simply couldn’t see them. Annie Dillard says it best: “The lover can see, and the knowledgeable.” Put love and knowledge together, and the world begins to fill with beauty.

  26. The Art Gallery of Ontario had an O’Keeffe exhibit a few year back. I was struck by how her commentators assumed that her paintings were sexualized, while she had no intent or interest in her flowers being anything other than her flowers. I love that she was so clear about what she intended, and I found and find it amusing that need to make things mean something other than what they are about.

    1. This is another variation of the well known truism, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. People find what they’re looking for, regardless of the intention of the artist. I encountered the same observations regarding O’Keeffe, and don’t believe they add anything to an appreciation of the work. I say this as an admirer of her flower pictures. Loved them.

      1. If you haven’t read the quotation I added in response to Allen, just below, you’ll enjoy it.

        People certainly do respond differently to any form of art. Sometimes, their response accords with the artist’s vision: sometimes not. I’ve had the experience of idiosyncratic meaning being “read into” a poem of mine, and it’s always occasion for thought. Sometimes, I conclude it’s a different, but valid, interpretation. Sometimes, it’s clearly the imposition of an agenda, and I simply let it go. Why argue over the meaning of a poem already written, when there are new poems to write?

        1. I don’t believe that a new poem displaces the old, though sometimes the new one outshines the elder… but I’ve always had my reservations about literary criticism… like what we spoke of in the appreciation of nature… Often it’s best just to let it soak in, and relate to a literary work with what we have in our own hearts and minds.

          1. That’s one reason I so often re-read favorite works of poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. What’s in my heart and mind changes over time, so my interpretation of a favored work necessarily changes as well.

            There’s a line famously attributed to Anais Nin: “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” But the delightful Quote Investigator, who’s one of the best for sourcing quotations, found that such wisdom goes back much farther. Rabbi Shmuel Ben Nachmani, quoted in the Talmudic tractate Berakhot (55b) says precisely the same thing.

            1. Thank you very much for informing me of the Quote investigator. I think that could come in handy for me now and then. Not to get my quotes right, but to check on others. Occasionally (since starting to read on the internet) I run across a quote by someone I’ve read, and think, ‘that couldn’t possibly be him’. But usually I’m too lazy to check. Of course, I might forget that I have this useful resource by next week. But I have a place where I keep such fine tools. As for the quote by R’ Shmuel Ben Nachmani, I think I know exactly the context in which he was speaking.

    2. Your comment sent me right back to my favorite essay about O’Keeffe, published in Joan Didion’s The White Album. I’ve always loved this quotation:

      “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.”

      Didion adds, “And I don’t. Imagine those words spoken, and the sound you hear is don’t tread on me.

      Another interesting line is this one: “At twenty-four, she left all those opinions behind and went for the first time to live in Texas, where there were no trees to paint and no one to tell her how not to paint them.” I never read that without thinking of my arrival in Liberia. The job I’d been hired for had been given to someone else, and I was told, “Go find something to do.” So I did. It was either the beginning of a glorious transformation or the first step toward non-respectability. Some days, I’m still not sure. :-)

    1. Thanks, Arti. There’s never an end to reasons for giving thanks, is there? I was thinking of you just before the holiday, when I was looking again at William Kurelek’s visions of the nativity. His art is just one of the wonderful things you’ve introduced me to — and I’m thankful, indeed!

    1. I’ve always enjoyed O’Keeffe’s art, although what appeals most changes from time to time. The details of her personal life became of interest long after I’d found her art: a bit of a reversal from certain art classes where we focused on the biography first, and the art second.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post; thanks for taking the time to say so!

  27. I didn’t even know Georgia O’Keeffe had done city paintings. I’d started reading a novel about her life, but didn’t finish. A few years ago, I attended Laguna’s Pageant of the Masters with a “Pursuit of Happiness” theme. Winslow Homer’s ‘Snap the Whip’ painting was recreated with real children placed on a life-sized replica of the painting. Enjoyed reading some of the connections you’ve made among these artists.

    1. That’s quite interesting, about the children and the Homer painting. It was perhaps two or three years ago that a town in Michigan recreated Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte using ordinary townspeople — one of the most creative tableaux vivants I’ve ever seen.

      I think I found O’Keeffe’s New York paintings about the time I fell in love with the Flatiron Building. Odd, how things so far outside our normal environment can have such appeal. Of course, I think all of us cornfield kids had a romantic view of urban life. I’ve enjoyed living in great cities, but cities have changed over the years, too, and now the rush of traffic isn’t nearly so romantic.

  28. I’m familiar with Homer Winslow’s maritime pictures of stormy weather and rescues at sea, but until I read this post, I hadn’t known that he also painted pictures of the Caribbean. They look so much cheerier than some of his other works.

    1. So many artists go through changes, adopting different techniques, different styles, and different subject matter. I suppose Picasso’s Blue Period is one of the most famous.

      I do think our introduction to painters helps to determine what we think of as “their style.” What we see first gets imprinted, and we often don’t go beyond that. I’ve had the experience myself, and have ended up more than once saying, “He (or she) painted that?”

      The same thing happens with singers. They get known for their first songs, and those are the ones people clamor for at concerts. If they try to move on, to try something different, fans aren’t always happy. Rick Nelson even wrote a song about it.

      1. You’re absolutely right. I’ve often thought that it must be difficult for singers and artists when they get stereotyped and can’t move on without upsetting fans.

    1. Sheryl, thank you so much. Unlike so many in your family, I’m no good at all with a horse or cattle, but it’s kind of fun being a word-wrangler. I’m glad you enjoy my efforts!

  29. The little museum in Santa Fe has quite a few works from each time of O’Keeffe’s long life, AND no magnets or t-shirts of her work in the gift shop, in respect to her view about reproductions. Your beautiful essay makes me even more respectful of this principle.

    Best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    1. That’s very interesting, about the gift shop. It seems they’ve changed their policies, or perhaps there is a difference between the physical gift shop and their online store. When I went over to have a look at the online gift shop, I was delighted to see that one of my favorite pieces is available as a magnet. I saw her “Evening Star” series at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — a wonderful experience all on its own.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the essay. Now, I’m curious to learn whether there’s been a policy change at the museum store, since other magnets — and t-shirts! — are available. Or, perhaps you visited a different museum. In any case, it’s wonderful that her work is so widely available.

  30. A lovely, educated piece. Your love of art is illuminating in itself. I do like Van Gogh and O’Keeffe. They speak from the eyes of their souls. I saw a carefully crafted work by O’Keefe of flowers, I think they were orchids, shaping into a vagina. It was striking. Hard to look away from. As always, I delight in reading your message work. I always learn from you. Thanks

    1. So nice of you to stop by, Debra. I’m not surprised you enjoy art, and Van Gogh and O’Keeffe are artists well worth admiring. You might enjoy this article about an O’Keeffe exhibit at the Tate a couple of years ago. It takes on the issue of what, precisely, her flowers represent. She and her critics (and admirers!) have gone back and forth on that one from the beginning.

      It’s hard to believe we’re nearly to the middle of December, and Christmas. I hope your holiday season is enjoyable, and as stress-free as it can be for any of us.

  31. First I have to say, her flowers were NOT vaginas. For gosh sakes I’m tired of that cliche. She wanted people to SEE flowers, and so she painted them huge. She painted love-notes to the natural world, not porn. (see comment above)

    That out of my system, thank you for this beautifully crafted meditation on art and gratitude. It is lovely. I particularly loved how you worded the moment of inspiration, how the subject grabs the artist and drags him over the cliff! Marvelous! You captured how it feels exactly, which isn’t surprising since I’m sure it is exactly how how you feel when a poem strikes.
    And love….I once was fortunate enough to see an exhibit that paired Van Gogh and Gauguin. I had just read a biography of Van Gogh, and learned of his vast love for the world and for people. By contrast Gauguin was portrayed as a vile-tempered misanthrope. So it was interesting to see people’s reactions to the exhibit. The paintings by the two artists were interspersed and I watched as people lingered before the Van Gogh’s, and then scurried past the Gauguin’s. Not some, but all of the crowd did that. And the expression on their faces was one of being repelled, slapped. I think people could feel the love residing in Van Gogh’s canvases, and the misanthropy residing in Gauguin’s. You’ll think I am fanciful…

    1. I know. In her book The White Album, Joan Didion quotes O’Keeffe on the subject, and she was quite firm in her resistance to that kind of interpretation, saying:

      “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.”

      So there.

      I don’t know as I’d characterize Gauguin as a misanthrope, but he certainly was an unusual character. On the other hand, any misanthropic tendencies he might have had surely would have been exacerbated after those nine weeks in Arles. Theo’s good idea didn’t pan out so well, and if I’d been Gauguin, I might have wanted to get out of there, too.

      Of course, I’ve grown to appreciate Gauguin’s work over the years, and probably view him more positively because of it. I think a turning point came when I read this post by one of my friends. It gave me a new way to see his art, and to consider some of my own efforts.

      1. Well, I have to admit I like the quote, and I appreciate the pointer to Redtree Times. I’ve been thinking of departing more from nature with my work so the quote resonates with me. Still, there was no denying the negative vibes coming off his canvases. Of course, I know that we see what we look for in life and it is possible I was expecting to see the reaction I saw. If you see what I mean. :)

        1. I’ve always appreciated a statement the writer Anaïs Nin included in her 1961 work, “Seduction of the Minotaur”: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” I’ve found it true over and over again, in a multitude of settings. I think it helps to explain why, over the years, our preferences in music, books, and art can change so radically. The intrinsic value of the book or painting hasn’t changed, but our receptivity to it has.

  32. I love your description of “the distillation of reality.” Something like this happens also with a good novel, when the author focuses and reveals aspects of life that we don’t notice looking at the actual world and events, and creates a work that is somehow more real than reality.

    In The Art of Travel Alain deBotton writes about this phenomenon, how a previous familiarity with the expression of an artist’s perspective on our travel destinations can make our visit so much the richer.

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