Archive | June, 2013

Thinking About Art and Artists

25 Jun

As a child, I assumed art was about beauty, but, of course, I didn’t know how to think about what beauty was, or wasn’t,  or might be, and no one explored such thought-requiring territory with me–or even in my presence. Early, before the age of five, and, I think, before the age of three, I formed the view that I myself was not beautiful in any way, but especially on the outside. Of course I didn’t yet know how to apply the term “beautiful” to the inside. I remember thinking Trilliums were beautiful, and, not understanding that my mother had hay fever and  couldn’t tolerate some  flowers, eagerly hurried down the forest path across the street to pick my mother a huge bouquet of them. She thanked me profusely, and I remember feeling very pleased and grateful. But, within an hour, I happened to go into the garage behind the house, and, to my dismay, there were the Trilliums, in a bucket of water, next to the old wood stove there. My happiness evaporated. I too, felt  rejected. What could have been the matter with them? With my judgment? I was afraid to ask, so it was some time before I learned about hay fever.

I thought roses were beautiful–their soft colors, their smooth, cool petals that smelled something like Ivory Soap–so pure, and clean, and fresh. My grandfather in Bremerton was a gardener in his spare time, and grew roses all along the edge of his property. As a five-year-old, during a time when my mother was critically ill,  I stayed there for a year–the only child in a big house full of somber and stern grown-ups. My only relief from  that lonely and frightening environment was to go outside and walk the length of the property, up and down and up and down and up and down, looking, looking, looking, and, occasionally, breathing in the fragrance of those beautiful roses. 

In second grade, our teacher announced that she would present each of us with a tiny print of a famous portrait. We were to ask our mother or another relative to create a costume for us based on the one in the photo. Then we would become part of an art exhibit in the school auditorium. The curtains would be pulled to resemble a frame, and we–art come to life– would stand in that frame for a few moments so that the entire student body could receive a wonderful introduction to art.

How sad I was when my friend was given a photo of “Pinky,” a pretty little girl  in a long pink satin gown with a pink ruffle at the hem,  a pink bonnet with long pink ribbon ties,  and a pink umbrella, and I, alas,  was given a newspaper clipping of “The Lark,” a photo of a poor barefoot girl standing in a field at dawn, with a sickle  in her hand, looking up at a bird on a branch above her head. 

“Oh,” I thought. “Why do I have to be a peasant girl? Why can’t I just be a beautiful princess kind of girl and marry the prince, and live happily forever and ever?”

How sad it was, being a peasant girl, in a rough ankle-length brown skirt, and a white blouse, with a kerchief tied around my head, and a sickle in my hand, when my friend had such a wonderful opportunity to be so beautiful!”  

 Assuming that the costume meant that I would some day be a farmer, and my friend would become a princess, I was hugely disappointed for many years, every time I thought about this experience.

That is, until I graduated from Grays Harbor College as an English Major and went on to Washington State University to complete my B.A. and earn my M.A. in English. To my amazement, when I walked into an unlit room upstairs in College Hall, into my Sixteenth Century Literature class, there, just inside the door, was a large framed painting of “The Lark.” The girl’s eyes were level with my own, and I could see, clearly, that her mouth was open, and she was singing. It was quite a moment!  I was that girl!  I had identified with her all my life until then, was sure that I would live on a farm and raise, if not animals, then at least fruits and vegetables, and quite a few cats and dogs, and maybe chickens, cows, horses, pigs–who knows what?  Suddenly I realized that if she was singing, then I was singing too. She and I were the lark!

Wow! How wonderful was that?!  We were morning people, out in the field, maybe listening to the natural voices all around us, but, even better than that, we were part of it all. Our voices floated across the field, floated up to the sky, filled our hearts with gratitude –just to be there, just to be part of that wonderful, surprising, yet-to-be-discovered and experienced and oh so natural world.