A Drawing Reverie

I have been in a reverie these past several days, one made richer by drawing. It provokes all these feelings, seeing the beautiful blue and pearl of the Chinese vase, the exquisite character of the lines that curve round its edges. I understand better some aspect of Degas whose pictures often seize upon evocative fragments. You find these fragments through drawing because drawing is simple and intense and uncluttered by problems and distractions of technique. It’s more just pure looking, watching with a pencil.

I can see how a composite approach to a still life can become essential: you can do still life object by object and arrange it only in the picture itself, like a Dutch flower painter.  Or through combining objects in an artist’s set up, you can draw the mysterious relationships between things, you can study material reality, marking the complex interstices of things and the empty spaces around them.
You can get at something even by just doing the effect of light curling round a single object and its unitary surface, as in a drawing of an egg.

As complex as exploring another planet is seeing intense and particular effects of vision.
Just the space between one edge of a vase’s rim and the other side ought to matter!  This is reality we’re talking about! Ah, the space in between them.

[A version of this post first appeared at Art Writing Bold Drawing, drawing by Aletha Kuschan]

Finding Treasure

What I’ve discovered about fortunes and getting them is that, just as in wise fairy tales, the fortune is always located right under one’s nose.  It is in managing one’s surroundings that one finds one’s purpose.  Mind you, I’m not arguing against travel or change.  I’m just asserting, as Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz, while clicking her heels, that “there’s no place like home.”

Recognize that the seeds of even the wildest ambition begin humbly at your own front door.  Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson became an astrophysicist in potential at age 9 in the most brightly lit city in the world, home to just “12 stars.”   So it turns out all the stars he needed were found in books and in the Hayden Planetariun.

I have a secret house in one of the mid-Atlantic states that has a secret closet.  I have a secret garden, too.  And at the Arboretum and Botanic gardens, I own great and vast estates. 

Look beneath the soles of your feet.  Search the clouds over your head.  Look to your right and to your left.  Your treasure is right before your eyes, and has been there all along.

Choosing Color

People wonder how to put colors together when choosing furnishings for their home.  While you can find many books on the topic, I want to add some advice that’s very compact.  Go out into the garden and gather some flowers that are in bloom together and plop them into a vase without a whole lot of fuss.

The colors that we find in nature look good together.  The quantities, the varieties, the degrees of contrast as well as the degrees of commonality produce a lovely effect.  Too often people succumb to rules to bolster a choice.  Too often the rules lead to a sterile sameness.  The commonplace notion is that colors should “coordinate.”  But in nature we find plenty of contrast.    Often the most beautiful spectacles in nature arise amid great contrast such as the colors of a landscape under an approaching storm.

Think of the dark cloud, the pale blue-green cerulean of a luminous sky, the rich dark green of shadow and the lush powerful verdant of a brightly lit lawn.  Imagine the mirror reflections of a landscape seen from the water’s edge.  Imitate the dapple of the shadows from a tree’s thick foliage.  Let the bright tones of a bird’s wing alight in your mind, and you’re well on your way to finding the color scheme for your life, your rooms, your home.

Arrange a little still life with flowers and let it be a microcosmos for your color ideas.  Imitate nature and you cannot go wrong.

[Top of the post:  Bouquet of Flowers by Aletha Kuschan]

Advice from Yehudi

     In the imagery of Classical antiquity, the Muses dance together.  All the arts share a common foundation, and thus an artist in any discipline can learn a lot from the other arts.  Painters can learn much from musicians.  In this quote by Yehudi Menuhin, the distinction between effort that is exclusively technical and a highly structured artistic freedom is well delineated:

“If I felt I couldn’t accept Ysaye’s advice, nor his offer to teach me, the fault lay in my stars perhaps, or at any rate in the temperament I was born with.  He might have added method to my working day (among much else besides, no doubt) and thereby shortened the long search for understanding I ultimately had to make, but learning an imposed method seemed not in my nature.  In dealing with people I was, as I am, very trusting; in dealing with ideas, opinions, traditions, techniques, I never took anything ready-made, but reserved judgment until I had personally tested the matter.  Music was something very alive to me, an essential means of expression, and I suspect that unending hours of work on dull material might well have blunted rather than polished my interpretation of it.  Nor am I alone in this, I think.  I have since seen how very rigid teaching of music, such as has been systematized in Russia can steam roller individual expressiveness into anonymous brillance, so that only the most irrepressible survive the course with personality and musicality intact.  Of course I don’t wish to imply Ysaye would have ridden roughshod over my finer feelings; only that what he might have given, I was not able to take.  If it was unorthodox, my development as a violinist was nevertheless valid.  Mine was an inspired way, shown me by inspired teachers, not mastery of scales and arpeggios; it was recognition of greatness and response to it.”

                                  –Yehudi Menuhin Unfinished Journey   p. 66- 67 Alfred Knopf publisher, 1976

[Top of the post: Andrea Mantegna, detail, Mars and Venus or Parnassus, 1497, Paris, Musee du Louvre]

A Path Leading Somewhere

Some people complain about the summer heat.  I’m not one of them.  I bask in summer heat like a turtle.  For me summer has always meant freedom.  It began, no doubt, with the childhood experience of being released from school.  But it culminated with the myriad experiences upon which a summer is actually composed.

In childhood I had my backyard to explore, but fittingly too I had at the beginning and end of every summer the experience of traveling to visit North Carolina relatives to the rural south, where I could explore wild nature.  Mostly I climbed a single chinaberry tree, which was universe enough for an eight year old girl.  To this day the branches of a tree seem like welcoming arms, and a tree is almost as good as a person for company.

And so a path through foliage or trees marks out for me life’s great events.  A path tempts you to take it.  Walk this direction, oh brave ones, if you will.  Who is the adventurer to take this road and see its great delights?

[Top of the post: Great Oak, by Aletha Kuschan, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 44 inches]