A Widening of View

Oh, to bask in a bouquet, to meander through a field of sunflowers …

Today’s musings, the telling of my outright full-on love (love!) for that of Vincent van Gogh. Often, I am asked who my favorite artist is, to which I reply “My favorite artist is Vincent van Gogh.” I’m met with a groan or rolling of the eyes much of the time, especially if a fellow artist or designer is the one asking. For, he’s typical. A layman’s choice. His work over saturates many a poster shop, the term “a dime a dozen” coming to mind in describing the prevalence of his work.

What I had yet to learn was that the ability to produce realism was in fact considered preliminary.

At the age of 14, I hated, hated, hated him! His work rather. Any artwork that didn’t seek to capture realism simply sucked in my view. The way I saw it, these artists didn’t have the skill to look at an object or scene and reproduce it in graphite or paint. Instead, they apparently did what they could, creating splotchy, ill-conceived versions of their subjects often with poor perspective and proportion to boot. My thinking hadn’t yet evolved to realize that the art that he and others were creating wasn’t about the desire to recreate reality perfectly. What I had yet to learn was that the ability to produce realism was in fact considered preliminary. For years artists were trained to draw and paint realistically, spending hours recreating works painted by the masters down to the last brushstroke, as well as the traditional still life studies, figure rendering, portraiture and landscape work.

I returned time and again to books filled with works of Impressionism (along with a handful of other “isms”) and still shook my head in disbelief, unable to see an ounce of beauty in the work. I remember the day it all became clear to me. From the 6th grade on, I’d spend hours drawing, shunning a table or desk, opting instead for the floor. More often than not, I’d look up to find myself quite literally frozen in place, the sketch pad laid out across the bed, having knelt alongside it for hours, legs long since asleep, as I realized I’d once again trailed off into my own little world. That particular day, in leu of sketch pad, I stared perplexed at van Gogh’s “Irises.” Light bulb! I’d been perceiving the work all wrong. Having acquired the structural basics, fully versed and equipped in all things realistic, artists wanted more! To push beyond and discover something new! Uncharted territory. A style unexplored and yet to be defined, to be known for originality, a contribution. To create and be known for creating!

Art isn’t about beauty, though, it’s certainly a personal joy when it is. Art is about ideas. It’s not always pretty. Nor soothing. It can tell the truth. With a lie. With art one can mirror the current trends and foibles of society, as many a wry political cartoon may attest. The lie being that the art itself is a recreation of an image, not the actual image.

Irises by Vincent van Gogh

So, Vincent was the catalyst to my expansion of thought, a widening of view, and for that, I have great affection for him despite his commonplace status. Screw art snobs and the need to offer up a high brow example of artistic depth, yes? I’ve always been a bit sad that van Gogh came off as somewhat of a kook, what with the earlobe sharing and death by botched suicide attempt business. His short life spiraled downward into madness and was filled with many dark times and a lingering lack of self esteem. He sold but one painting while living and was generally considered a failure.

I was overcome to find that he was more than his bleak reputation.

In 2004, the Seattle Art Museum held an exhibition including an extensive selection of his work. I had seen several pieces at other museums on the East coast, but nothing like in this particular exhibit. The first room was full of just his drawings. Detailed sketches on aged brown paper with graphite. In those drawings, I saw that he was by no means just some kooky, dismal failure. He knew how to capture light and shape and perspective. Incredible detail, thoughtful visual tellings of the life he lived day to day. It was like reading an intimate journal, looking at those drawings. Then the next room, all paintings, all color! YAY! The piece de resistance, my favorite painting by him. “Cafe Terrace at Night.” No print does the real thing justice! No words in description. Cobblestone, wrought iron, night, stars, outside dining … le sigh. I began to cry. In a room milling with people, my sister came up behind me, “Deborah!” When I turned, tears welled over. No sobs, I held them down, receiving a nice lump in my throat from that! Ha. I was overcome to find that he was more than his bleak reputation. A published book of letters written to his brother show he was wonderfully expressive and reflective in thought. Seeing tactile proof right there though, on paper and canvas, to almost touch what he touched, it showed that for whatever struggles he had, he was so much more, and it renewed my pride in naming him my favorite. ♦

Cafe Terrace at Night
Cafe Terrace At Night by Vincent van Gogh


Tires. Flat ones.

Several weeks back, Bean came home from work semi-ranting about some kids who were throwing glass bottles into the road. She arrived home with a flat tire. Down we headed to change it, Bean being introduced to the wonderful world of the car trunk where the jack, lug nut wrench and spare all reside. So love that they’re included! As they should be.

Not having changed a flat in years, we were double checking our progress when over walks a woman from a car parked a few spaces over. She’d just pulled in. She asked if we needed any help, stating that she had worked on tires for a living. Her husband, standing back by the vehicle, one kid hanging lax in the crook of his arm, head on shoulder, the other being coralled in near his leg from repeated attempts to wander out into the road, nodded his head our way. We totally took her up on the offer! I’ve had periodic car issues over the years, ending up stuck alongside the freeway in the blazing sun on a trip to Portland one time, in the dark night on a strip of Pac Highway another, among others. Whichever, always, always someone came along within minutes. A crew of road warriors out there looking out for me. Blessed! So I wasn’t at all surprised at the uncanniness of finding not one, but two people (the woman mentioned her husband currently worked at a tire shop), a couple no less, in an apartment complex of hundreds, not only living in our building, but arriving home just minutes behind us. Thanked her profusely! Several minutes later, on track from her advice, we’d removed the tire, and were beginning to struggle with lifting the spare up into place to aline with the bolts when up walks the man. Endowed with lovely “man” shoulders, he placed the tire in mere seconds and we were on our way.

My little car is under strict instruction to not cave under peer pressure and follow suit.

Turns out, the tire wasn’t flat due to the glass afterall. A thick nail was the culprit. Upon further inspection of the tire, a nasty patch of barely there tread was found. So worn in fact, it was reminiscent of a helium balloon, stretched thin, and surely would have blown out at any time. Bonus: Acquired knowledge and practice of tire changing was put to use not even a week later, when my Dad’s car got its very own flat tire on our way to lunch. My little car is under strict instruction to not cave under peer pressure and follow suit.

Here in lies the rub. For well over a year, I’m randomly disrupted from time to time by a truly awful ruckus out in the parking lot. That of a woman, a mom, screaming, no RAGING, at her children. Two little boys. She bellows at them, shoving them into the side of her car, back and forth between hers and the next, to and fro like human pinballs. Clenching their arms, violently shaking them, slamming them up against the door, swatting at bums, slapping at heads, roughly directing them, eventually, into the backseat. All the while the words from her mouth, she hates them, not only hates them, f**king hates them. The standard issue of foul names to be called are then slung at them with a liberal helping of “dumb” and “stupid”. Needless to say, my buttons, pushed. Push! To an Nth degree. It wrenches my heart.

So, last week, again with the screaming. Was awakened by that horrendous voice. Each time I’ve gone to the window, my vision of her upper body has been blocked due to the angles of the carports, but this time, she walked out around the vehicle in such a way, that I saw. It was her. Our road warrior. Blessed tire woman! Left me more deflated than any tire. I’ve mulled over the options …

A. Approach her soft heartedly, attempt to appeal to her sense of rationality, of heart.
B. Play her version of “mommy” and slam her up against her own car door with many the flying expletive.
C. Call the police and/or apartment complex and report her. A lot.

The woman in the booth can no longer take it, and as she goes to stand for a confrontation, the man reaches out, grabbing her wrist to drag her back down

Thing is, unless a rare, rare case, nothing, absolutely nothing I attempt will reach her. Once I heard her let the maintenance man have it when he politely asked her to keep it down. Off she flew on a tirade of complaint. How the neighbors had been calling and reporting her for abuse. That she could damn well do what she pleased with her kids. That incident takes care of both options “A” and “C” in one fell swoop, more or less. That leaves “B”. A few months back, I watched one of my favorite actors, Justin Theroux’s, directorial debut, Dedication. A scene takes place in a restaurant booth, where a man and woman attempt to hold a conversation only to be continually disrupted by another woman talking cruelly to her child as she shoves him around. The woman in the booth can no longer take it, and as she goes to stand for a confrontation, the man reaches out, grabbing her wrist to drag her back down, uttering the following words, “If you go over there, she’s just gonna take him home and beat the s**t outta him because of you, you want that?” That scene, was like a slap in my face. To think my potential actions, be it “A”, “B”, “C” or any other, could cause further harm, further frustration built up in her to be unleashed unjustly on those boys.

I’m glad for the personal encounter with her. She’s been humanized. Not excused. And though I’m left feeling rather helpless, I know, know, people can change, drastically, and for the better. I’ve experienced it. Seen those mellow who needed mellowing. Boy, would I like to mellow her. May she experience an epiphany to so entirely eclipse her ingrained habit as to move her up and on to a better way! Sooner than later. ♦