My Path to Art

 

It was my father who showed me the way by painting in oils himself. I observed his capturing what he saw in art from an early age. My mother never took a particular interest in art; she preferred reading or vigorous exercise as activities. Of course, I took on all these things both of them did, but by sharing an interest in art with my artist/architect father, I developed a powerful secret pull that helped my appreciation of art to flourish. Why secret, my writer friends ask? My father had my brother Stephen earmarked for the artist; I was the dancer, possible musician. My sister Krissie, the horticulturist and so on. It was secret because, while Dad never said, “This is your calling,” I gave myself permission to follow his interest and love it.

The next part, I think, was beginning to observe my surroundings and the things in them with care. This was long before I thought rationally; perhaps what I see is particular to me?

Then there’s the education. One gets educated in art history in college; one learns how to identify the art of particular artists and place them in historical context.

But then, there’s what you do with your free time after college. I chose to go to art museums in cities to see exhibits. This I did in many cities over a long period of time.

I still do this. Whenever I go to a city, the first thing I want to do is see art. I know what I like right away and with a little time and care I can explain what I see and what I like in writing.

Seeing is an art in itself. I think it means you think about what you see and you have developed the ability to define it. For me it begins with colors and shapes, then proceeds to line and form and design.

Recently I re-read Edward Hopper by Lloyd Goodrich. I was struck by the words of Hopper’s wife saying about her husband to a friend, “He’s been studying that empty canvas all summer.” The empty canvas became Sunlight in a Cafeteria.

You could say it took me a long time to develop an appreciation for the Kansas landscape. It also took me a long time to develop a seeing eye for art.

A few weeks ago, from April 5-26 of this year in 2017, I went on an art tour with my husband Paul to Barcelona, Antibes, Florence, and Rome…just the two of us.

“The Fundació Joan Miró, Centre d’Estudis d’Art Contemporani([fun.də.siˈo ʒuˈan miˈɾo], “Joan Miró Foundation, Centre of Studies of Contemporary Art”) is a museum of modern art honoring Joan Miró located on the hill called Montjuïc in Barcelona, Catalonia.”

Paul and I spent a beautiful clear blue sky april morning walking through Montjuic park to the Joan Miro museum. We got there shortly after it opened so it was not crowded. We got our headphones and took our time listening and looking at the exhibits.

Toward the end of our visit Lovers playing with almond blossom caught my eye. The primary colors are vivid. The lines curve, necessary to the “playing” aspect of the forms. The designs are simple, childlike–two lovers bend in harmony toward each other in their own private universe. They are large in size, as lovers always feel larger together than when they are separate. Nothing stands between them in the way of their intense, happy communication with each other. Simple, playful, colorful, arresting, fun. The viewer will not forget this Joan Miro sculpture: Couple d’amoreux aux jeux de fleurs d’amandier.

 

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…To be continued and developed with other art I saw and liked in Barcelona, Florence, Antibes and Rome.

 

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Creative Emergence

Lately, I have been thinking of these two words: creative and emergence; about how they fit together to form a certain meaning.

In a radio interview on September 26th about my writing of The Starlings in London, I chose to focus on a section of the book where the artistic and aesthetic environment is evident. Here the narrator of the book, 12-year-old Lily Starling, is captivated by the allure and beauty of the English countryside and seaside as well as witnessing the working process of painters, like that of her father and his artist friend Lawrence.

Writing in a diary for the first time, Lily tries to express how the old windmill–where her father and Lawrence go to paint–affects her with its tangible and intangible spirit. “Is the windmill really brown?” she begins.

Lily is thinking about what she feels about what she sees. She is struggling to understand it. She decides to submit herself to its control over her thoughts, her being, and attempt to write about it. This is the narrator’s creative emergence.

Something about the place (private; overlooking the sea; by a reedy canal), the object (the old windmill…a sort of vessel), brings its visitors rapture, coupled with self-renewal. Why else would painters and impressionable girls, like Lily, go there again and again and try to capture its essence?

My present thinking about creative emergence is that it occurs not by the struggle to control it, but by submitting to its powers over you, the artist. It comes from the unconscious and the artist must recognize its appearance and harness it while you work your art to create your vision.

 

 

 

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 3

I took the summer off…now I am hard at work again. So where was I in the story? Oh, I remember: THE FINAL FILE.

Said final file was sent to a book designer, Molly Cook, recommended to me from the artist Nancy Purington who created the cover art for The Starlings in London. This cover captured in art the essence of what I decided to convey in the dilemma with which Lily Starling and her family are confronted once they reach England. I have to say the cover exceeded my expectations and has not ceased to capture my imagination when I look at it in book form, or better yet, when I study the painting itself.

The book designer worked and reworked and reworked the design to get what I wanted: simple presentation, with the letters interspersed throughout the book in block print, yet looking like real letters on the printed page.

This part took weeks to get right.

Because I read so much and am critical of what I read as well as its presentation, I went one step further. I submitted the book designer’s pages to my copyeditor. And, she did find a few things that needed tweaking!

Another aspect of publishing which I have not yet mentioned is the feedback I received every step of the way from a cousin who used to be in the book design business for major publishing houses in NYC.

It’s 8:55pm. I know not to call once the minute hand for 9:00 has ticked into its getting- ready-for-bedtime place.

“Oh, Hi! Sorry to bother you so late in the evening, but can you just take a look…”

“I will, but in the morning.”

“OK. Thanks!”

Whew! Thank God for devoted cousins.

So, what am I getting at here so far? Publishing is an act of collaboration. The higher the abilities of the collaborators, the better the final product.

Now, to take it one step further.

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Thursday, September 8th, was the celebration of my book at our local bookstore here in Lawrence KS: The Raven Book Store. This store is the neighborhood gem for all of us here who love books. And this store caters to the needs of local authors by promoting them and their new books. They gracefully exhibit the books and provide opportunities to gather together over wine and cheese to listen to authors present excerpts in oral presentation. Again, this is another example of collaboration. This time between authors and bookstore and neighbors/Lawrentians (Not D.H.).

My writing group is called The Write-On Group. We came together on Thursday to the Raven Book Store to promote my new book and to present their work to an audience. Again, collaborative effort and celebration.

Here is the program for the Raven reading, if you wish to take a look.

r-a-v-e-n-fall-2016-program

So how does it feel to be published and have your work celebrated? It feels like your work has been officially stamped and sent out into the larger world.

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 2

So how did capturing a “smell” in notes turn into a manuscript–a book–and why would publishing said book change a person?

The Dad who smelled earthy, the smell in the train station of metal burning foreshadow the coming of age the narrator (a twelve-year-old girl) is about to go through.

The writer (me) is committing to following the idea of a girl coming of age to its conclusion. Somewhere early in the writing, not long after taking notes on smell, I came up with the book’s title The Starlings in London. This is the one thing I never wavered about. It helped me focus on the unfolding story.

I decided I was going to write this story of anguish, the break-up of a large American family in the foreign city of London in the late 1950s and I decided I wanted to contrast the city with the country to make it more interesting for the reader, and to give the anguish a breather once in a while.

The book’s ending, I knew from the book’s beginning. That helped give it bookends so to speak.

Each chapter I wrote was brought to writing group to be critiqued. I did not incorporate all the suggestions of the other writers. Instead, I thought about the suggestions and decided which of the suggestions made sense to me.

After a good long year of writing and critique in writer’s group, and re-writes, I then worked without interruption…not reading any books during this 3-month period because I did not want any other voices in my head other than the ones I was honing in the book. No reading. No Facebook.

When I had completed the manusrcript to the very best of my ability, I sent it to a very good copyeditor. Lots of grammatical errors were corrected. I had to give way to her suggestions about word changes (hard to do). For instance, I wrote that Lily Starling states, “my socks were dew wet.” The copyeditor changed that to “wet with dew.” For the most part I went with all the copyeditor’s corrections/suggestions, as in copyeditor knows best. However, I would only do this because I know how good my copyeditor is.

Now we have the final file. Great! I can read again! Check out Facebook if I want to again. Have a dinner date not just with my husband, but with friends. Rejoin the human race.

To be continued…

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 1

Yes! my new book The Starlings in London is out! My last blog was about a road trip. I always imagined road trips as LONG. Enough time to even change the inside of you by what you experience along the way, so much so that you even act differently when you return home. Hopefully more grounded and with greater perspective about life. Well, the road trip to Bentonville, AK was short and it was everything I had hoped it would be but it did not change the inside of me.

Publishing has changed me. It may take a few blogs to convey this change.

Read on if you want to hear about it…

First you have an idea and begin to type or write something. My idea began with writing about smell in a writing group. My “smell” was getting off a train as a kid in a zombie like condition in London in the wee hours of the morning after a crazy trip across the Atlantic on The Queen Mary to rejoin my father, which is later fictionalized in the book.

Writing assignment in writing group:

There are smells to seasons. There are smells to places, and there are smells to every time of one’s life. Use this prompt and write something. (I don’t like prompts, but I was trying to be a good group member.)

Okay, okay. What can I possibly say? I’ll jot down some notes:

Smell of the change:

Deadness in the air, gritty, greasy, metallic, foggy, gray heavy air, permeates nostrils. It hangs on the insides of them. Combines with sights clanging, shuffling of feet, train whistle, deadness, different shades of gray, tiredness, wasted, depression, forced smiles, vacancy, wool coats in summer, nothing obvious, or direct, unseen forces, reaching through a pea-soup fog and finding a hand, whose hand is it? A friend, a family member, a stranger?

The above notes became these words in The Starlings in London:

Dad smelled earthy. I was sure he had not had a bath. The skin of his cheeks was loose, yet bristly. The hanging mole next to his left eye jiggled in my right eye. My warm blood leaked fast, out of my face, down my throat, past my chest, and through my stomach, coursing toward my toes.

I smelled metal burning. My spit tasted like poison. I could no longer hear anything.

to be continued…

Reinventing Ourselves

As I look around me at family members and at friends and acquaintances, even at people I don’t know but read about, I am struck with how hard people are trying to reinvent themselves. Some of these people are doing it in little ways, such as: a change in size–through diet and exercise; a quick change of appearance through a different haircut, a new hair color; or facts or fictions people are saying about themselves on Facebook. Others are more daring: having lived decades as straight, people are choosing gay partners. Still others have left any known universe we have once shared and have leapt into the unknown; these people one can only now find in snippets–both words and pics on the Internet.

Why are people doing this? Is it because of self-hate? Is it a calculated strategy to succeed in this changing world? Is it fear of failure? Is it in the hope of finally finding fulfillment? Is it finally trying to be who they really are?

About fifteen years ago, I moved from the East, where I had spent my whole life, except when I was living in London, sight-unseen to the Midwest. Now that was a rather large change. Was I trying to reinvent myself? You bet I was. In work–especially writing–and in love, I sought to create worlds that reflected the now urgent vibrant sense of self that was screaming for expression. Even if no one else acknowledged these needs for change, I did, and I acted on them.

So, did re-inventing myself work? Does reinventing oneself work?

I think it did; I think it can, if the changes one is seeking are authentic; And, if one is able to find a system or world to support the reinvention. For, reinvention is creation and creation is risk-taking, barrier breaking. Sometimes the barriers are family and friends. Sometimes the barriers are new conditions that one encounters. Sometimes the barriers are parts of oneself that are hanging on for dear life until one gives them the boot.

Exploring the Mind and Creativity

Was it Camus who said artists recreate four or five experiences one had as a child? I thought about this listening to Bruce Carter’s WVIK radio interview with Mississippi River artist, Nancy Purington. I heard her say, “Yes, growing up in Princeton, Iowa–a town of 250 at that time in the mid 1940’s–there was nothing to do. The only stimulation was the river.” She is sure her parents took her for walks by the river at night; nights when the light from a full moon shone on the water and that as a baby attracted to light, she absorbed its aesthetics. It became one of her four or five primal experiences. “Moonlight on the Mississippi” became the name of many of Nancy Purington’s works: watercolors, paintings, gouache, pastels, and digital photography.

But, when I picked up an art catalogue on my way out of the Dubuque Museum of Art on July 31st, it was the catalogue’s cover of ice and snow, and the words NANCY PURINGTON/TWELVE VIEWS OF WATER that first drew me in. Winter! Water, 12 Views! Interesting. Who is this Nancy Purington?

2004, ICE SNOW IKAT, gouache on paper 6” X 8.75”
A small gouache painting, observation of a Mississippi River scene of white snow on indigo colored ice shaped into this zig-zag water design patterned by the wind.

It wasn’t until the morning after I woke up in my own bed at home in Lawrence, Kansas, and reached for the catalogue that I got to Purington’s Moonlight on the Mississippi series. Spring, summer, fall.

2007, MOONLIGHT ON THE MISSISSIPPI, digital photographic print, 22” X 28”
Photographic capture of the full moon inscribing its name on the indigo waters of the river.

Something was kicking in for me about my own childhood memories of water. Here’s one: Moonlight beaming on black water at midnight in summertime in Norway. The light created a luminous path across the Skagerrak. So mysterious, so enticing, so beautiful. As a child, it made me want to be the water touched by that magical light.

No need for my meditation book that morning. I became what Nancy Purington caught fly-fishing with her digital camera:

… the flecks of gold shining on the water

…the wavy lines of gold and azure

…the churning granite waves

…point, line, curve

…Lake MacBride with diamonds

…infinity in

These shots caught on the fly brought Purington home to visions of the Mississippi she had absorbed all along as a child. The Mississippi became her great teacher then and now. From this base, she recreated with formal training and a lifetime of developing her work as an artist what she experienced primordially living on the Mississippi River. TWELVE VIEWS OF WATER touring exhibit, gives to the world in various forms of art “the continuation and culmination of thousands of hours of living, observing, tasting, smelling, dreaming and otherwise being touched by the Mississippi River.” (Barbara Christensen, Director, Muscatine Art Center)

Purington’s work nourishes my mind and creativity. It is an intellectual and seeming kinesthetic exploration that offers what it knows, leaving room for what you know to find balance and harmony with it.

I can be all her different shapes in “Flotsam & Jetsam.” I can be her little warning triangle in “M.M.5,” her waves in “New Wave,” her fiery rectangles glowing from underneath folding sheets of indigo blue in “Prelude (in the dark).”

Nancy Purington’s Twelve Views of Water invites you in.

A few highlights from Nancy Purington’s Artist Vitae: Kansas City Art Institute BFA Painting, Nelson Atkins Group Invitational: The Pleasure of Pattern 1987; Jeune Peinture 39e, Grand Palais Paris 1988; J.P. Morgan Library, research access 2001; Major Iowa Artist Grant, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs 2006; Launch of Twelve Views of Water touring exhibition, 2009: Muscatine Art Center, Waterloo Center for the Arts, Clear Lake Art Center, Dubuque Art Museum.
For more information on this artist, go to nancylpurington.com

A “Published Book” by Students for Students of Students Has Impact

The book Written and Illustrated by: A Revolutionary Two-Brain Approach for Teaching Students How to Write and Illustrate Amazing Books by David Melton is a wonderful tool for adapting to your school’s writing programs, but only if there is a teacher in charge who cares deeply about children, writing, art, books, and professionally finished products.

For eight years, I developed my own writing program using this book. Each year, the student books got better and better. As the writing program grew in reputation more students wanted to write a book, to have a book by the end of the program to take home and keep. A book they could display on their own shelves, knowing they had created it from its very inception to its self-manufactured sewn and pasted product. (Many of them looked like professionally published books.)

Ron Knox for the Lawrence Journal World wrote an article “Student writings will be added to West library” about the pride some of my students took in their books. In order to have a book to take home and one book for the library these students had to make two. It took a semester of work to complete them.

I liked when Knox said, “After the students and their parents cleared the room, Burlingham spoke softly about her student’s accomplishments.

“Patience,” she said, “that helps bring them along.”

The class, although part of the school’s gifted program, was open to everyone. Some of the kids could flat-out write, she said. Some struggled to finish their projects.

For the words of the students and a photo open this link:
http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/feb/01/student_writings_will_be_added_west_library/

Teaching Kids to Connect to Art

My webmaster suggested that I write some blogs about the teaching of writing as it connects to art, since this is a subject that has interested me for many years, a subject that I concentrated on as a teacher of kids: kids who were gifted; kids who were “average”; as well as some with dual exceptionalities, such as gifted and having Asperger’s syndrome.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art many years ago, I attended a workshop called Writing through Art. We teachers sat on little stools with pads on our laps and took down notes about what we saw and felt in a painting or sculpture before us; then we learned how to take our own words and compose poetry or prose with them.

I took the ideas from this workshop back to the classroom and experimented with them. Over the years, I had great success with the method. I found that any kid could write a good poem.

Here’s one example of how it works:

I blew up Roy DeCarava’s photographs from The Sweet Flypaper of Life, not showing the accompanying narrative by Langston Hughes. These are very engaging portraits of black people living in Harlem: an old woman standing tall and proud against a wrought iron fence, a young family on a Sunday outing at the Hudson River, mischievous boys letting water out of a fire hydrant on a scorching summer day, a girl dressed up all in white for a confirmation, crossing a dirty empty city lot.

The photos were laid out on the floor. (I think there were 40 of them; I duplicated favorites.) Each student picked one he/she liked. Then, on a piece of paper with three headings—seeing words, action words, feeling words—the students studied their photographs and jotted down notes.

Man in a suit
Girl with a bow in her hair
Two boys in shorts

What’s the man doing?
Sitting on a log

What’s the girl doing?
Playing down by the water

What are the boys doing?
Sitting on handkerchiefs on the log

How are the different people feeling?

The man’s feeling proud of his family
The girl’s happy to be by the water
The boys feel good sitting next to their father

And how does the photograph make you feel?

The photograph makes me feel interested and joyful. It’s different from my life, but I’m glad they’re having a good time. I’m always happy by the water myself.

What words on your page interest you the most?

Girl with the bow in her hair

That’s a good title.
Start from there.

GIRL WITH A BOW IN HER HAIR

Girl with a bow in her hair
Plays down by the water
She doesn’t dare get her feet wet
Cause it’s Sunday

Her brothers sit stiff on handkerchiefs
Gazing at the black river
They are still, next to their proud father
On the old log
Having a quiet Sunday time

This technique works with any piece of art that interests kids, but they need choices with which to identify.

I’ve had success using the photographs from Charlotte’s Web and Stone Fox with younger kids because kids have such strong feelings about the characters in those books.

Revision X6 of My Memoir, Jewels That Speak

I revealed in my first blog article–The beginning of my writing life–that it was editor Margaret Gable in her course at The New School in New York City who trained me to sit down and revise.

Long before I retired from teaching, I knew I wanted to tell my story in a memoir. Not everyone grows up in two different countries and has to quickly make up new character traits in order to fit into different cultures. Such jarring experiences occasionally produce the themes of great artists, like one of my favorites–Henry James. Not every bored ten-year-old goes up to the attic to rummage through suitcases and musty old boxes only to find pieces of the most beautiful colored shimmering glass the eye can behold.

Later I learned the pieces were remnants of the opalescent stained glass, Favrile glass, named and patented and used in his designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany. And who was he? No less than my father’s grandfather–my very own Great-Grandfather. Not every child has to take an ocean voyage on the Queen Mary during the 1957 boat strike to rejoin a father in London who had essentially left us–my mother and us five kids–in order to be closer to his mother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, and her famous colleague and companion, Anna Freud. How did Grandmother and Anna Freud wield so much power? Not everyone is the daughter of a strong, handsome Norwegian mother who devised a plan to take us five kids to ski in the mountains of Norway and on arrival handed out backpacks bulging with all our food and other supplies to strap on our backs to cross-country to a remote hytte (cabin) with no running water, electricity, or toilet when not one of us had ever skied before. Not every girl learns how to attract men like flies to defer the pain of the loss of her father’s love. But everyone suffers losses, and has to be ingenious in learning how to combat them. We just all do it differently.

My Memoir–Jewels that Speak–began with the title scribbled on a page of a plan book in March 2007, when I was in the Ozarks with my husband Paul for my birthday weekend. Within six months, I produced a first draft. Editorial help from Laurie Wagner Buyer prompted me to write a second draft. Then, a third draft. Since then, the book has been in the hands of a New York editor, producing additional critiques, and inspiring additional revisions.

After a fifth round of critique from the Writers Group I blogged about last week–Feast for Seven Women–I have started another draft. Who said, “in revision the scissors are even more necessary than the pencil,” or some such thing? Sounds about right.

In another blog, I will talk about what the jewels mean in my memoir.