The Golden Thread: Five Artists. Five Approaches. One Goal.

The Golden Thread: Five Artists. Five Approaches. One Goal.

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Chaos - 1875 George Frederick Watts
George Frederic Watts – Chaos

To name an object is to suppress three quarters of the enjoyment to be found in the poem … Suggestion, that is the dream.” – Stéphane Mallarme’

The discovery of the treasures buried within a particular work of art – be it painting, sculpture, music, literature, theater, or any other creative expression of a soul – is, like life, a journey. Along this journey, we find help and inspiration from those who have previously traveled the road upon which we find ourselves. Frequently, if we remain open, this help and inspiration comes from unexpected and seemingly incongruous places. Such is the thrill of discovery.

In my last post, I stated that this year I would write about the discoveries I made, the lessons I learned from the artist whose birthday fell on the date of the post. As February did not see a posting, I decided to look collectively at the artists who would have had their own, separate posting to find a commonality, a creative thread binding random strangers through the ages.

Three of the four artists about whom I was to write – George Frederick Watts, Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin, and J.J.P. Oud – were born in the same century yet lived in different eras (1817-1904, 1841-1927, and 1890-1963 respectively). Each of the four artists – Giovanni “Guercino” Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666) being the fourth – came from different countries and cultures (England, France, Holland, and Italy, again respectively) as well as global social realities. Added to the mix are my variables of era, country of origin, culture, philosophy, and global social realities. How can we have anything in common? What possible creative thread could there be woven into our tapestries that connects us through the expanse of centuries?

The best way, I find, to discover this golden strand running through our lives, connecting our creative endeavors, binding our souls is to explore each section closely then step back to see the entire picture in its full scope.

Mr. Barbieri was a naturalist as heart. His paintings were noted for their luminous qualities and lively style yet contained a delightfulness and muted gentleness not found in the works of his peers. As a Naturalist, he sought to depict the subject of his paintings in its natural setting and with as much of a realistic feel as possible. Stylized, romantic manipulation of subject and/or setting, in vogue at the time, would not do for him. Beauty comes from truth; therefore, the truth is what he sought to put on the canvas.

Guercino - Hironymus
Guercino – Hironymus

Two centuries later, we happen upon Mr. Watts, Msr. Guillaumin, and Mr. Oud; each trying to discover, reveal, express, or explore Truth – a particular truth that their respective life experiences brought them to and which their societies (in general, artistically, spiritually, or in other fashions) tried to hide or avoid through strict conventions.

Mr. Watts, a painter and sculptor of the Symbolist Movement, was in search of a way to reveal the inner truths and energies that compose Life, affect and are effected by evolution. Mr. Watts, inspired by Michalangelo’s Cistine Chapel, envisioned his works on one enormous canvas; a self-contained, continuous allegory of truth upon which mankind could ponder. In spite of his inability to conquer some of the constraints he faced, specifically that of finding a space large enough to encompass his vision thereby forcing him to break up his colossal dream into smaller units, Mr. Watts overcame the constraints of convention through developing new techniques with which to depict classical traditions. He overcame the constraints of public opinion by opening his own museum as a way to familiarize the public with his philosophy and methods.

Industry-and-Greed,-1900 - George Fredric Watts

Industry and Greed – George Fredric Watts, 1900

Msr. Guillaumin – an active member of the Impressionist Movement, friend of Camille Pissaro, and major influence on Vincent van Gough – sought the truth of the moment as felt through the impression left by the experience. Msr. Guillaumine’s paintings (as did those of other Impressionists) sought to strip away the extraneous details that clog the senses, depriving the viewer of the momentary sensory effect of the scene, of the moment of truth.


The Bridge of Louis Philippe oil on canvas by Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin 1875


J. P. Oud – an architect, writer, and original member of the de Stijl movement- like other creative souls of his era, sought his truth in a minimalist, pared-down approach to life resulting from the chaos of the First World War. Art was a means of personal transformation of the soul and spiritual redemption. The focus of creating the art was that of universal truth and understanding versus the pursuit of individual sensory pleasure in an attempt to bring harmony out of the chaos of the war.

JJP Oud Rear view of Weissenhof Row Houses in Stuttgart

JJP Oud Rear view of Weissenhof Row Houses in Stuttgart

Each of these men sought to explore and express Truth in a manner that would allow each person who viewed his work to explore Truth, to internalize it through his creative expression and become a better, more enlightened, more understanding person in the end.

Each of these men found that their visions, beliefs, and philosophies could not come to life nor thrive under the thumb of the conventions and dictates of the artistic and societal times. These conventions and dictates were, and are, the equivalent of naming a thing, of stripping it of the enjoyment of discovery and confining the soul of the piece to the box into which the name places it, from which it must never stray.

Enter the twenty-first century. Enter Cathleen Elise Rossiter, a writer with a passion for truth and art and the lessons contained therein from which to learn and grow. My pursuit of truth has taught me the fine art of paring-down and de-cluttering in order to unearth the core, the essence of a person, place, or thing. My quest has taught me that somewhere in all of us lies the need to express and expose the truth of our lives, our communities, our times. Some have an easier time suppressing this need. Others fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, finding it impossible to leave the truth hidden, unexposed. Somewhere in all of us, we rebel at the names we have been given, be it on the playground, within our families, in the boardroom, or by some random stranger who feels it necessary to judge us as we pass by.

I fully understand the need to name things. Naming a thing brings with it a sense of security since we rarely fear that which we know. When faced with an unknown yet nagging truth lurking in the shadows, beneath the surface, or around the corner, human beings find it easier to avoid the fear of the unknown. We tend to do this by giving the-thing-to-be-feared a name that makes it easy to accept and explain. Yet, as Msr. Mellarme’ shows us in the quote at the beginning of this post, when we give a name to a thing we give it a specific definition; we close the door on further exploration  and discovery of the thing because the name, the definition creates a sense of finality, of completion.

In a world so full of others telling us what to think, believe, and ascribe to, I am grateful to those brave enough to suggest a line of thinking through the uncluttered depiction thereof and the freedom to enter the discussion and wander around at will to form my own impressions in my own style, at my own pace. I am grateful for the respect with which these artists treat me (and every viewer) in allowing me to use my intellect – trusting me to do so – to see the truth they are trying to expose, trusting me to do the right thing with this truth.




New Year, New Possibilities: Through the Eyes of Kees van Dongen

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!  

A note about the post below: You will notice that this was written a few weeks ago. Balancing my writing with the other responsibilities that make up life in general is proving to be a challenge. Sadly, life-in-general wins out more often than not. I am working on making this a much less frequent occurrence as we move through the year so fear not, dear readers and faithful friends, you are not forgotten – I am simply not as super-human as I imagine myself to be.  Thank you all so much for your continued readership in spite of my long absence. Your faithfulness is truly inspiring.

New Year, New Possibilities: Through the Eyes of Kees van Dongen

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Maria by Kees van Dongen

It is very difficult to paint as light and bright as nature. It is so easy to dirty the painting. So we used pure colors, sometimes brutal in their intensity.” – Kees van Dongen, February 8, 1960 article in Life Magazine.

As we near the end of January in this new year of 2017, I return to you after a long hiatus – full of hope, full of excitement, full of possibilities. My time away from you has been filled with challenges of various sorts and the subsequent soul-searching required in order to come out of them a better person. What one inevitably feels at the end of a struggle from which one has reigned victorious is a sense of strength and of infinite possibilities stretching beyond the horizon.

In honor of this new birth in this New Year, Art Life Connection focuses on artists and those pursuing creative expression whose birthdays fall on the specific posting date at hand. I thought this would be a wonderful way to celebrate, learn about, and learn from a wide variety of people around the world and throughout the ages whose art can connect us with life through their creative endeavors and visions of the world around them.

Today, 26 January, is the birthday of Dutch artist Kees van Dongen, a major player in the Fauvist movement of 1904 – 1908. Mr. van Dongen, like his friends and fellow artists of the time, felt constrained by current and prevailing schools of thought in art, in contrast to the increasing freedom of the times (1890’s – 1920’s), so he and his friends broke out of their creative jail, following their instincts as to how to capture their vision on the canvas. As the quote above by Mr. van Dongen reveals, the painting techniques taught to artists at that time were dark, weighty, and imposing. These characteristics revealed themselves on the canvases. What Mr. van Dongen and his fellow artists craved was to breathe life into their works, infuse them with vibrancy yet to be expressed. They found their answer, their release in the use of color – rich, vivid, often violent color.

Change is hard for those who are comfortable in their surroundings, for those who have closed their eyes to their gradually decaying environment in an effort to preserve the familiar and the security that familiarity brings. Change creates fear at the realization that one cannot stop the change, therefore the loss of one’s safe, familiar haven. With this fear comes criticism and obstinacy, a lashing out at those leading the charge for change.

As pioneers exploring new territory, Mr. van Dongen and his colleagues met with negative criticism and obstacles, harsh judgment and closed-mindedness. Yet, as all true pioneers do, Mr. van Dongen and his fellow artists paid no heed to the criticisms and opinions of those who could not see through their eyes. They painted their vision in the manner they deemed best, most beneficial to the conveyance thereof.

The vision of the Fauvists was one of hope and possibilities, of light and a life full of joy in the ordinary things that fill one’s days, of the beauty of nature and the vibrancy of life. They painted landscapes using as pure a color as possible. Looking beyond the obvious flat green of a tree in spring or a brown wheat field in autumn, those of the Fauvist school of thought painted the underlying blue of the leaves on a tree, or the flaming red that characterized the hair of a sitter for a portrait, or the purple of the mountains at sunset.

The object of this approach to painting was to open one’s eyes to the world and its beauty, to the depth and range of colors found in everything, to open one’s mind to possibilities beyond the narrow confines of a mind conditioned to think a certain way. Van Dongen’s figures have the same characteristic deep, wide eyes suggesting the subject is taking it all in in wonder; it suggests a sense of hopefulness and adventure; an open-mindedness and intelligence; freedom and life.

“We were always intoxicated with color, with words that speak of color, and with the sun that makes colors live.” – Andre Derain

As I move through this new year lain at my feet, I turn my face towards the sun in search of a life full of living colors and a world full of possibilities.


Patience and Persistance: Revisited

Patience and Persistance: Revisited

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, c. 1873. Oil on canvas, 18 3/4 x 24 1/2 in. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., William A. Clark Collection.
“Fear of repeating oneself, of repeating oneself may be the greatest bugaboo of late capitalist society. The fear has been marketed so effectively that a will to sustain attention on any one thing can be cancelled out easily in favour of the latest distraction.”

 –Jan Peacock –

As a child, I first encountered the work of Edgar Degas in an art book we kept on the coffee table in the living room. This book was, in the eyes of an eight-year-old, enormous; filled with glorious color reprints of a hundred or so masterpieces by celebrated artists of the ages – Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Da Vinci, Copley to name the few that I remember as mesmerizing.

At eight years-old, I was infatuated with ballet. Although I did not take lessons (I tried once but the dance teacher, although a caring person, had no training in ballet – the Can-Can, yes. Ballet? No.) I spent all my time buried in books with photos or stories of the ballet, ballerinas, and the beautiful shoes and costumes the ballerinas wore. I do not know if I would have been any good at executing the art had I been able to pursue it, but I do know that at that time in my life, I was not ready for the discipline and patience necessary to persist in my pursuit of mastering the art form.

While looking for the quote to accompany this post, I encountered innumerable quotes about how life is not worth living in the face of repetition; that there is something inherently wrong with repeating a task, a statement, theme; that repetition in art is a sign of stagnation and a lack of talent.

I beg to differ.

Life is full of repetition that is useful and necessary for our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. Without repeating the fundamental movements involved in any art form, the beginner will remain just that, a beginner. No one would ever be able to become adept at any task if he or she only attempted the task once. Would you want a surgeon operating on you who had never performed the heart valve replacement you needed? Would Michelangelo be the artist and sculptor he was if he didn’t repeatedly try to master the techniques? Likewise for Mikhail Baryshnikov or Margot Fonteyn or any Olympic athlete.

In this day and age, we are told constantly to get on with our lives, to move forward. We live in a fast food, disposable world that is getting more impatient with every passing minute. This constant state of motion makes it difficult to be patient and to persist in learning to master something through repetition. It makes it difficult to see that in the repetition there is forward motion and growth. This week, I pledge to embrace repetition and the mastery of one job, task, or skill. I pledge to be persistent in my quest for growth in my chosen job, task, or skill. I pledge to repeat this persistence each week in order to get on with moving forward in my life – effectively; productively.

Local Treasures

 Local Treasures

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Lillian Wescott Hale - L'Edition Deluxe
L’edition Deluxe – Lillian Wescott Hale

 “The home should be the treasure chest of living.”

– Le Corbusier –

I once had a friend who moved to another part of the country when she married. As her husband was in the military, therefore away from home for long stretches, she had frequent visits from family and friends wanting to help ease the loneliness and solitude. During my visit to her new home, we spent several days seeing the sights and helping her settle in. One day, on a carriage tour of the city, she said, “You know, Cathleen, I know more about this city, have seen more, done more here than I ever did in my own hometown. If it weren’t for all the visitors, I probably wouldn’t have seen this one either.”

This statement popped into my head the other day when I came across a copy of The Boston Painters 1900-1930 by R. H. Ives Gammell while helping at a local library. Flipping through the pages, I realized that I never knew my hometown was so full of renowned, influential artists – certainly not to this extent.

Ever since my first visit to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum as a child, I have loved spending long hours at museums. Although my visits through the years have been infrequent for various reasons, I always get a sense of coming home each time I walk through the doors of a museum. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that one’s treasures are safe, well cared for, and easily accessible; that they are there for you to discover and rediscover whenever you are ready.

Through this long forgotten volume, upon which I stumbled, my own corner of the world has been expanded and enriched because I now have a host of new eyes through which to view my hometown, gaining new perspective through the wisdom and insight of those who lived here before me. By understanding the lives and worlds of my artistic forbears, I gain insight into the things that influenced their vision of their world as well as why they had such an influence in the world around them.

Learning how others view their worlds, of which I became a part decades or centuries later, opens my eyes, mind, and heart to new ways in which to view my own. This enriched vision only enriches any of my creative endeavors which enriches the life of anyone who encounters my art.

This volume has inspired me not to wait for a time when I am showing visitors around my city in order to get to know her and benefit from her treasures. Today, I take it upon myself to discover my local treasures by seeking out local artists of all sorts – architects, musicians, painters, sculptors, textile creators, et al – past and present, to see my world through their eyes.


2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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Presenting Reality

Presenting Reality

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter


© Kitsen | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.”

–  Jim Morrison –

Sitting at my table by the window on this hot, summer day, I glance up and catch the alluring stare from across the room. Perfectly tanned, well-dressed, oozing charisma – the glistening melted cheddar dripping enticingly over beef so moist I want to reach out and wipe down the picture glass, all in perfect proportion to the ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise exuding down the sides of the burger from under the bun. “I’ll take that one, Alex!” I exclaim to the waiter in breathless anticipation of the first bite.

I speak, my friends of the fine art of food photography and styling – in this case, that of the classic American cheeseburger. It is the job of the food photographer to present the menu item to the consumer in as enticing a way as possible; to use whatever visual means available in order to present the menu item in its best, most consumable light. As the perfect shot does not always happen with the first click of the shutter, food shoots may take as long as couture fashion shoots.

Additionally, as food does not perform on cue, the photographer will have to hire a food artist or modeler to sculpt the menu item of materials that will behave as needed, yet look as real and enticing as the actual food item. For example, shaving cream often replaces whipped cream, lard or shortening is a standard stand-in for ice cream, and lipstick is a go-to fruit ripener.

While waiting for my order, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I have taken the same approach to how I present myself to the world; how often I have sculpted, molded, colored, and shaded parts of my life with characteristics foreign to my natural self in order to project a perfect image of myself to my target audience. Recalling specific instances, I realize that those times when I continually reworked – molding, sculpting, morphing – myself to get the perfect shot, were times when I was most unhappy and exhausted with all the subterfuge. What is wrong with being imperfect? Some of the sweetest fruits are the ones with a blemish or a bruise, the one that isn’t perfectly round or red or radiant. We all ripen at different rates and by different processes.

Perfection is overrated. After all, people and things are rarely what they seem. Even an imperfect looking cheeseburger can surprise you with interior perfection and depth of flavor. I’ll take interior depth and flavor every time.


2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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Wishing Revisited: Same Message, Different Voice

Wishing Revisited: Same Message, Different Voice

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Pelléas and Mélisande by the well - Painting by Edmund Blair Leighton
Pelléas and Mélisande by the well – Edmund Blair Leighton

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” 
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

My last post dealt with the concept of wishing; how easily it can take over our lives if we let it, stopping us from actually doing what is necessary to make our wishes reality, as I had been doing with my garden – wishing it were neat and trim while watching it grow out of control.

The story I relayed about The Girl Who was Quite Fond of Wishing is the story of me in grammar school. The revelation that I was wishing my life away came upon me suddenly, in a moment when I heard myself whining that I couldn’t skate like the other girls in class. I finally saw that the other girls in class just went out and tried to do what the instructor showed us. They did not spend their time afraid that they would fail, or fall, or hurt themselves. The other girls in class tried, failed, fell, hurt themselves, and eventually succeeded – attaining their dreams, fulfilling their wishes of becoming figure skaters while I stood back and watched my wishes stagnate. In that moment when reality confronted me, I let go of my fears, tried, failed, fell, hurt myself, and worked hard to fulfill my wish to become a figure skater.

There is always a danger in unchecked wishing. Tragic love stories the world over – those ancient and contemporary, those of legend and those of people we know – are riddled with examples of one or more parties in the relationship wishing they had someone else’s special someone. Tristan and Isolde, Pelléas and Mélisande, Anna Karenina, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are a micro-sampling of the fictional and real-life instances of the devastation of unchecked wishing. Rather than focusing on living the life he or she was meant to have, he or she focuses on the wish of a life that the other person’s life and possessions represent, thinking that one must possess exactly what someone else has in order for the wish to be fulfilled.

It’s easy to get lost in the wish, to forget or never realize that the wish represents a potential reality that we can make real, on terms and conditions that are best for us. Trying to replicate someone else’s dream and expecting it to make us happy or fulfill us in any sense is like Cinderella’s step-sisters trying to cram their feet into the glass slipper that was custom-made to fit Cinderella. The slipper will shatter, leaving the false wearer in pain and confusion. We get lost in the passive part of wishing, forgetting – or perhaps never knowing – that there is an active part of wishing, the part that we must do to attain the reality. In the process of getting lost in the wish, we begin to confuse the model, the representation of our ideal, our Long-Hoped-For with the True One meant only for us.

Wishing can become a way of giving up too soon, of turning away too soon because we do not see our ship of dreams landing on shore. Like the miner who tires of swinging his pick-axe, walking away dragging his axe in dejection, when he is only two axe swings away from his mother lode, we also tire, often turning to wishing at the moment we stop swinging our pick axes, often only steps from our goal.

Wishing is a good thing. It helps us to see what’s possible which leads to a plan of action. Today I vow to keep swinging my pick-axe until I reach my mother lode, to not turn away in resignation but to “act and do things accordingly”.

Wishing It Were So

Wishing It Were So

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

girl gathering flowers - Jessie Wilcox Smith
Jessie Wilcox Smith

Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


This week, while finally trimming the verge after weeks of wishing the garden were not so overgrown, the song “Wishin’ and Hopin'” sung by Dionne Warwick kept running through my head as well as the painting of the little girl gathering flowers by Jessie Wilcox Smith (above). The following fable with its corresponding lessons is the result of my latest encounters with art.

The Little Girl Who was Quite Fond of Wishing

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was quite fond of wishing. She was quite fond of wishing, in fact, that she spent all of her time doing so.

“I wish the kids in school liked me.”

“I wish I did better on my math test.”

“I wish Johnny would ask me to the dance.”

She spent so much time wishing that she no longer realized that she was doing it. Eventually, her wishes began to take different forms:

“I can’t wait until school is over.”

“I can’t wait until Friday.”

“I should have gotten that part in the play.”

“If I were class president, we’d have an awesome school.”

“I wish I could play soccer like Mary Sue.”

One morning, while brushing her hair, she looked in the mirror just as she finished wishing she had hair like Sally MacPhereson in Mrs. Jones’ class. For the first time in her life, the little girl saw something quite unexpected; she saw a beautiful person with hair that far outshone that of Sally MacPhereson in Mrs. Jones’ class. The face staring back at her was that of an intelligent person who had great ideas and, in spite of a perceived laziness from all the wishing for the easy way out, the face reflected in the mirror actually loved to work hard and get things done.

The little girl who was quite fond of wishing looked into the eyes staring at her and finally saw herself. From that moment, the little girl who was quite fond of wishing refused to use her wishes as another form of complaining, was careful not to make a wish for anything that she would not work hard to make happen, and never  – ever – wished to be like anyone else (because really, it’s rather wonderful being one-of-a-kind).


2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise