catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 10 :: 2011.05.20 — 2011.06.09


It lives forever

Until that moment, I hadn’t thought much about art, except to be aware that I couldn’t make it.  My grandfather had taken art classes; I had seen his book of exercises.  He made his living preserving the lives of others by capturing their images, creating evidence that proves, a hundred years later, that they once lived in families or as a couple or as a beloved child in a long dress, tight ringlets framing a solemn face.

I came to understand later that it was art and beauty that my mother made clicking knitting needles together or piling white clouds of meringue high on a tart lemon pie.  But not then. I didn’t see it that way then.

I was ten when I saw pysanky eggs on television, the raw egg blown out of a tiny whole on the bottom, the shell covered in alternating coats of wax and color, lines and shapes pregnant with meaning circling the egg, stories to be preserved for posterity. My mother enabled my unskilled efforts, sacrificing a meal or two’s worth of eggs, and finding the paint somewhere.  She guarded my creations carefully in the corner china closet, more for my sake than for art’s sake, and eventually the eggs disappeared, crushed under the weight of a bowl stacked inside another.

It wasn’t until a history teacher, not an art teacher, showed our class the stormy seascapes of American painter Winslow Homer, that art became real to me, something more than what little kids did with crayons and paste. After class, I thanked Miss Holcombe, my white-haired spinster history teacher, for showing us Homer’s work, and she pulled more prints from a manila file folder of paintings created by American artists. It was an immediate love affair with this new world of people making art.  I made my own file folder, cutting pages filled with sunset colors and desert shadows from Arizona highways, of Norman Rockwell’s idyllic scenes from American life on the back covers of Reader’s Digest magazines, or the glorious big pages of Life or Look magazines.

From time-to-time, I tried again to paint or sketch or knit, even, but it seemed the creation of real art just wasn’t in me. Eventually I began painting word pictures, longing create them so vividly that my readers could see the same pictures that were hanging in my mind. I began to look inside of or beneath the art I saw in museums or books, thinking about the hand holding the brush or chisel, wondering at the person, the mind of the creator.  What was he feeling as he stood before the canvas, the block of marble?  Did she have a passion, like mine, to get it right, so that the two pictures — the one in the mind and the one others would see — though not matching would communicate the same message?

Then there is the day in Italy, decades later, when I stood in front of Michelangelo’s David, the physical part of me wrestling with my three children, attempting to help them stand still and appreciate the mastery, the creation and the mind of the maker.  And I must confess, the other part of me wanted nothing more than to walk right up to that massive work, and run my hand down the length of his muscular, almost alive, leg, to retrace what might have been the sculptor’s last caress.

“There,” I can imagine him saying, “Now you will live forever.” And that, I thought, is what good art does: it lives forever.

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