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.

iguilla001p4

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.

 

 

 

Patience and Persistance: Revisited


Patience and Persistance: Revisited

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Degas
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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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

 

The Fine Art of Blooming


The Fine Art of Blooming

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Van Gough - Irises - 1890
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise) Irises, 1890 Oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in. (73.7 x 92.1 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958 (58.187) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436528

 

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As spring marches steadily toward the moment when she hands over her mantle to summer, my garden persistently puts forth waves of blooms from the daffodils in April to the rhododendron, lilac, and apple in May, and the peony and iris in June. Some blooms are brand new; others at their peak, while still others rapidly fade. These blooms universally symbolize the struggles and triumphs of life and our human resilience amid difficulties.

These blooms – individually and collectively – also represent, for me, the effect that each human being has to bring happiness, comfort, and beauty to those around us each time we allow our truest selves to shine through – the person hidden in our core waiting to burst forth upon the world.

This task of finding our hidden selves is not complicated but it can be difficult. In the case of Vincent van Gough, his life was filled with the struggle to find himself amid his struggles with mental illness. He focused all of his endeavors to discover his style and identity as an artist – therefore, as he mistakenly believed, who he was as a person – on imitating other artists that he admired and wanted to emulate. He thought that his imitation of a master painter would make him successful, well liked, equal to or greater than the masters. Eventually, he was able to make the changes and adjustments to how he painted so that his methods and finished works reflected his vision of the world and how he fit into it. Yet, in spite of being able to discover part of whom he was and what made him special, Vincent van Gough still craved confirmation of his worthiness from the outside world.

How many of us have done the same thing in some form or other at some point? Something inside us says, “You are not enough; you are not special; you are not worthy of love, or praise, or friendship; you are worth nothing and have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the world.” Therefore, we think, “Since I am worth nothing on my own, I must have to change myself to fit the image of worthiness that the person or people I am with have so that I will be deemed worthy in their eyes.” I often wonder why we are never enough in our own minds, why we crave affirmation, why we can’t seem to be satisfied.

Van Gough’s Irises, like my garden, reminds me that each bloom is beautiful in its own right; each bloom has beauty enough for the world regardless of its level of perfection; each flower that refuses to bloom to its best ability deprives the world of happiness, comfort, and beauty; that even though a blossom is cut from its primary source of nourishment, it can bloom in the vase, in another environment. What a comforting thought to know that even when I feel cut off from nourishment, I am still able to bloom and bring beauty to those around me; that I can make life beautiful like no one else can because only I have my special combination of character traits and gifts. How will I choose to bloom today?

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s Third Lesson


Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s Third Lesson

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

(As this is part of a series and it may be helpful to see where it all began, here are the links (+ this) to catch up on my endeavor to learn something new from repeated exposure to a single work of art).

 

Where The Clouds Love to Rest - Alfred Jacob Miller 1830 oil on canvas
Where The Clouds Love to Rest – Alfred Jacob Miller 1830 oil on canvas

 

“Nature always wears the color of the spirit.”

 – Ralph Waldo Emerson –

 

After a week of rain and general dreariness, with the promise of more to come tomorrow and the following days, this solitary day of sunshine, with a cleansing breeze to dry things out, is a tiny piece of Heaven complete with singing birds, treetops chattering amongst themselves, and the fragrance of new life bourn upon the wind. This solitary day of sunshine and happiness brings with it a sense of hope, even in the face of further impending doom.

Antonio Vivaldi, through his expression of it in his Four Seasons compositions, clearly understood that life is a series of patterns and rhythms. Be it the patterns of the natural world in its daily, seasonal, or annual cycles or the patterns of the internal worlds of every human being as evidenced in our cycles of joy and grief in their varying forms, these cycles give us a built-in sense of hope, even in the face of further impending doom – if we choose to accept the hope we are offered.

Looking at the sonnets that accompany Signor Vivaldi’s seasons, Spring shows us that although the storms of our lives may feel as though they will never end or come into our live far too frequently, we actually have far more about which to rejoice than over which to sorrow. Storms have their time and place, yet their time is finite. With this in mind, we are able to ride out the storm – sometimes under the safety of cover, sometime getting soaking wet – and come through the darkness rejoicing in the light, a better person for our struggles.

Spring – Concerto in E Major

Allegro
“Giunt’ è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl’ Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de’ Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon’ coprendo l’ aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl’ Augelletti;
Tornan’ di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:”

Largo
“E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme ‘l Caprar col fido can’ à lato.”

Allegro
“Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all’ apparir brillante.”

 

Spring – Concerto in E Major

Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Courtesy of www.baroquemusic.org

There is a second part of the joy/sorrow cycle, however, that we too often miss. In this modern world that spins at an alarming rate, rushing from here to there and back again making a dozen stops along the way, far too many of us are conditioned to feel guilty or as an unproductive failure if we take time to rest and regroup – particularly after a major loss. Yet, as Signor Vivaldi shows us, after the storm has passed and we have rejoiced, it is necessary for us to rest before taking the next steps in our newly changed lives.

Many years ago I met a woman whose husband (her best friend) had died two years prior to our meeting. She was in such a state of quiet distress at the fact that she “couldn’t move on with her life” as everyone kept telling her she must. After explaining to me that she had spent the last two years helping everyone else grieve the loss of her husband, she began to see that she, herself, had not been allowed to grieve. Now that everyone else was in the rejoicing-after-the-storm stage, they expected, nay, demanded that she be in the same place as they. “Mom, it’s been two years now. You have to move on!” her only child remonstrated endlessly. Finally, in the face of further protests from family and friends alike (those who didn’t want to actually deal with the messiness of helping someone else grieve), this woman rented a solitary beach house for the summer to give herself the time and space to face the storm, rejoice in its passing, and take the rest and recuperation time she needed in order to take the next steps in her newly changed life.

Grief comes in many disguises. A simple change in our lives can trigger a sense of loss and death hidden beneath an unrelated incident. For example, while in the middle of your routine housecleaning chores, you may find yourself in tears or an agitated state because you knocked over and broke a dish. It was an accident. You didn’t mean to break it. It isn’t until you look at why you are behaving in such a way over a simple mistake that you connect the fact that the dish was a gift from your sister during a time when you were the best of friends. Your relationship has suffered over the years and the broken dish brings back to memory that something you did was the cause of the brokenness in your relationship.

The situation may seem dark and painful, especially in the light of this new revelation that requires you to make the first steps in order to heal the relationship. Yet, if we remember Signor Vivaldi’s example, we will know that the storm is necessary for new growth and that it will not last. The important thing is that we face the storm, rejoice in its passing, and take the time to rest and recover to ensure that the healing is permanent.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

 

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Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s Second Lesson


Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s Second Lesson

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

(As this is part of a series and it may be helpful to see where it all began, here is the link to catch up on the reason for and start of my endeavor to learn something new from repeated exposure to a single work of art).

 

Portrait of a Chess Player - Marcel Duchamp
Portrait of  a Chess Player – Marcel Duchamp

 

“What seems mundane and trivial is the very stuff that discovery is made of. The only difference is our perspective, our readiness to put the pieces together in an entirely different way and to see patterns where only shadows appeared just a moment before.”

 – Edward B. Lindaman –

 

In my adventures with Signore Vivaldi this week, I have come to appreciate the power of pattern. Vivaldi composed the Four Seasons around a pattern of fast-slow-fast or, in musical terms, allegro-largo-allegro, tweaking the pace to match the season in question.

Belonging to the Baroque era in music, which focused on bringing the communicative powers of music to the forefront, Vivaldi saw the untold potential to paint masterpieces of sound that evoked a feeling and expression in the hearer allowing the hearer to become part of the scene himself. Hence, his experimentation with the Program Music form – finding the right combinations of rigid and supple, fast and slow, high and low, loud and soft – allowed him to develop not only the benchmark of the form of music, but to develop into the benchmark for how to execute the form. Through the development of the pattern of program music, Signor Vivaldi gave every musician henceforward the tools needed to be able to speak through music.

Patterns fill our lives. Sometimes these patterns are beneficial – think of the calendar with its daily and seasonal repetition, or of the tidal patterns. Other times our patterns are detrimental, particularly when it comes to the patterns we fall into of filling our days with too many things to accomplish, giving no regard for our physical and emotional capacity; or of repeatedly pursuing a course of action that fails us every time. In fact, every fiber of our lives exists in a pattern (D.N.A.), functions according to a pattern (our intellect, nervous system, digestive system, sleep patterns), and is part of a larger pattern of patterns (the body as a whole which functions within an ever-widening community of other bodies).

As it happens, and as many of you who expected this posting last week know, my pattern of posting Art Life Connection every Thursday was interrupted. This particular interruption was due to illness. Other interruptions have been self-imposed for sundry reasons.  Still others were beyond my control. The fact remains that in spite of our efforts to break patterns (a good thing if breaking a harmful pattern) and escape the routine, patterns are here to stay. For good or for bad, we cannot live without patterns. Thankfully, Signor Vivaldi has shown us how to create beautiful music with the patterns of our lives.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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