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

 

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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Four Lessons I learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s First Lesson


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

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

640px-Marco_Ricci_-_Landscape_with_River_and_Figures_-_WGA19400

Marco Ricci– Landscape with River and Figures. c. 1720. Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.

 

Spring – Accompanying Sonnet for 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 goatherd 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.

– Antonio Vivaldi –

 Lately, I have been thinking of my annual reading of Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. As many of you know, I read it every summer and have been doing so for the past twenty-ish years. The more I read this one piece of literature, the more I learn about it and from it. This thinking has reminded me that we can learn something new from repeated exposure to any single creative endeavor (my term for Art in general). Therefore, for the next four weeks, I will be writing about the different lessons I learn from my repeated exposure to a single creative endeavor of a particular person. With spring upon us, I thought it fitting that I explore what Antonio Vivaldi has to say to me through the first concerto of his Four Seasons, Spring (the link is to a good YouTube recording of Spring only).

Signor Vivaldi, I have learned, embodies the theme of Art Life Connection in that his music, particularly The Four Seasons, was inspired by the landscape paintings (the creative expressions of) Marco Ricci, a contemporary artist of Signor Vivaldi – in fact they both appear to have lived in Venice around the same time. Signor Ricci’s landscapes created a desire in Signor Vivaldi to replicate the scenes on the canvas in musical form. Art imitating life as imitated through the art of another – a beautiful cycle of creation.

Looking at the landscape above, the easy, flowing technique with which the artist painted the scene transmits a sense of movement and life. I can almost hear the little stream and feel the spray of the water as it tumbles over the rocks onto other rocks below. The movement depicted in the trees allows me to imagine the breeze winding itself around me, fiddling with the loose strands of my bangs hanging in front of my eyes; I am almost able to inhale the scent of new-grown grass filled with wildflowers.

Listening to Vivaldi’s musical interpretation has the same effect. The opening has me dancing for joy along with the birds as they flitter about in the springtime sun; reveling in the happiness of the brook as it frolics on its way downstream, encouraged by the afternoon breeze; running for cover at the approaching rain shower; dancing again as the storm passes, singing in delight with the birds. The other movements evoke different images and their corresponding sensations.

Signor Vivaldi has taught me that there are no limits or confines to the number of inspirations nor of the methods used to relate those expressions – a look at the list (in section 5 of the link) is quite an eye-opener. In order for him to express the inspiration that Signor Ricci’s landscapes provided, Vivaldi refined an existing form of music, Program Music, becoming an acknowledged master of the form. What a thrill to imagine just how far the ripples of our own creative expressions might travel.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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When It Comes to Our Artistic Judgements, We’re All Freshmen


When It Comes to Our Artistic Judgements, We’re All Freshmen

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

 

The Freshman

Clark Kellogg: I don’t want to go to Palermo Sicily!

Victor Ray: Have you ever been there?

Clark Kellogg: No, of course not!

Victor Ray: Then you really can’t make an informed judgment, can you, Rodolfo?

 – The Freshman, TriStar Pictures 1990, written by Andrew Bergman –

 A not-so-long time ago, in a land quite near, my brother went off to college – a young freshman heading to a tiny island off the coast of New York City. Coincidently, that same year, Matthew Broderick did the same thing – on the big screen at least. Shortly before my brother headed south for his orientation, we jokingly purchased the movie The Freshman, starring the aforementioned Mr. Broderick, and watched it as a family to show my mother that she had nothing to worry about (insert filial giggles, nudges, and winks here).

One of my favorite scenes from the movie is the scene when Cousin Vic surreptitiously hands Clark Kellogg a fake Italian passport – a Plan B in the event that the evening’s escapades go awry. I come back to this scene often, particularly when I feel myself becoming closed-minded in the safety of my cocoon-of-the-moment.

In the realm of the creative endeavors of others, our cocoons-of-the-moment wrap themselves around us readily, and often, without notice. We become so caught up in our interior universes, which we rule with the withering authority and dry wit of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, seeing all from the lofty heights upon which Superiority perches. We echo the sentiments of Clark Kellogg when faced with art that challenges us, our way of thinking, our superiority, our surety in life-as-we-know-it, “I don’t want to go to Palermo Sicily!” Like Mr. Kellogg, we have never been to the place to which this confrontational work of art begs us to go. Yet, we think, if we admit that this new world may be worth a visit, may have something positive to offer, we jeopardize the very foundation upon we have established our claim, thereby ceding our rule and authority, our superiority.

Vulnerability is never an easy territory to occupy, yet those who do so reveal their true strength and greatness. Opening ourselves to the possibilities and wonders of new worlds reveals just how confident we are in our abilities to hold onto our homeland by expanding its borders. Opening ourselves up to new ways of seeing familiar things allows us to take in the wider view, the fuller picture to be certain that we are proceeding in the best manner possible for the situation, to be certain that we are making informed judgments.

Even if that judgment is the determination that we honestly do not like the artistic version of Palermo Sicily presented to us, we may move forward, confident in our decision. Remembering that with every artistic encounter we have, we are seeing it anew; that we are the freshman on campus, not the graduating senior, helps to keep our perspective and our minds open to the message we need to hear at that moment. The same artistic work seen at another moment will have another message to give us. As long as we venture forth into the land of vulnerability with a mind open to listening, we will hear the message every time, expanding and enriching our universes along the way.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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Facing Facts About Art I Don’t Like


Facing Facts About Art I Don’t Like

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

BDRT Mech.indd

“Look, it’s my misery that I have to paint this kind of painting, it’s your misery that you have to love it, and the price of the misery is thirteen hundred and fifty dollars.”
Mark Rothko

In my journey to discovering the art that I enjoy – art that has something to say to me about my life, life in general, mankind, or what-have-you – I invariably encounter art that has the opposite effect on me. Not being one blessed with an effective Poker Face, my impression of the art in front of me is quite clear by my expression. Although I always try to be diplomatic (“my Mamma taught me right,” as my friend Nancy always says), the writer in me who simply must describe the precise reason or reasons why the art repulses me too often wins out – to the chagrin of those in my party (“Who’s she? Is she with you? NOT ME!”).

My high-mindedness regarding art began in grammar school with my first official visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston Massachusetts. I was completely in awe of the art that surrounded me. Everything else that came along simply had to meet the same standards. It wasn’t until I began writing Art Life Connection and embarked on a quest to learn all I could from the art that crossed my path – no exceptions – that I began to appreciate whatever form or quality of art I encountered.

What I have come to understand is although the product of an artist’s expression is the tangible result of said expression; the thing (music, painting, poem) that communicates the artist’s message, the essential component of the act of communicating the message is the effort and the personal condition that the artist pours into the product. The quality of the result is not important – helpful in making the message more easily digestible, but not important.

Some would say that art exists to bring beauty to our lives. They are not wrong. What often is overlooked or misunderstood is that beauty can come in the form of a poignant message delivered through an off-key tuba rendition of Amazing Grace played with the gusto, love, and conviction of an eight-year-old during his first parents’ concert; or the Portrait of a pug dog painted with the unsteady hands and failing eyesight of a doting, elderly owner with no other family.  I am learning that the beauty we derive from the creative expressions of others comes from the artist’s person that he or she pours into the finished work rather than from the quality of the work.

Art is a means of communication above all. The artist creates because he or she needs to tell the world a truth. This truth can no longer remain untold so it wells up inside the artist until it comes out on paper, canvas, or through an instrument or dance, or any means necessary as appropriate to the message. Let me be always open to the message, regardless of the vehicle.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

 

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Fried? Scrambled? Baked?: What Julia Roberts Taught Me About Art


Fried? Scrambled? Baked?: What Julia Roberts Taught Me About Art

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

MFA Exterior 2

“I love Eggs Benedict, I hate every other kind.” – Julia Roberts as Maggie Carpenter in Runaway Bride –

 

In many ways, art can be intimidating. I remember my first visit to an official museum (as an eight-year-old, the various living history museums we regularly visited were too much fun to be seen as a museum to which sophisticated adults went). We left early that late spring Saturday morning for the trip into Boston. It was Family Day at the Museum of Fine Arts.

We found a parking spot on Hemenway Street, a stroke of rather good luck as we had only a short walk to the museum and the parking garage was full. Everything about the visit was larger-than-life; the 500-foot-long granite façade that would swallow my whole neighborhood,  the front stairs cascading into the circular entry drive like rapids over the Merrimac River’s fish ladders, enveloping an oval lawn the size of my yard at home.

Appeal to the Great Spirit is a 1909 equestrian statue by Cyrus Dallin

Towering over all who approached the museum, standing watch, arms outstretched, head tilted heavenward was a bronze statue of a Native American man on horseback. This ten-foot tall man and his horse seemed to me so real, so welcoming that I kept waiting for them to wake up, lead us inside, and show us around.

That day in the museum, I remember being mesmerized by the grandness, the greater-than-one-person-ness of the art from every age and culture as well as the building that housed and protected it all. Even this monumental structure was decorated elaborately, grandly, yet the decoration never competed with the art within it. I just knew that I would want to do the same if I were part of building something to protect and display the artwork I saw.

The overriding feeling of that day, for me, is one of being swallowed by greatness, beauty, and the souls of the people who created everything around me. I could not tell you the specifics of which pieces were my favorites, although I do remember wanting to make friends with the daughters of Edward Darley Boit, because I could not process the specifics. I was too in awe of the experience. I was too in awe of being allowed the privilege of the experience, I mean, this was serious stuff for adults, and sophisticated ones at that.

Runaway Bride
(c) Paramount Pictures

As a result, I went for years not having the courage to admit to myself whether or not I liked
a particular piece of art because it felt as though I was betraying the privilege of entrance into the world of art. I felt as if I was spitting on the souls of the people who put the best of themselves into work that did not speak to me. Therefore, like Maggie Carpenter in Runaway Bride, I adjusted my tastes and opinions to suit the people I was with at any given moment.

It wasn’t until I finally realized that just because I am not drawn to a particular work of art (pardon the pun) does not mean that the artist cannot speak to me through that particular piece. All I have to do is listen and look for the message to me in the moment and I will honor the artist as well as the work itself. I still don’t have to like the piece but I will have chosen to walk away a better person because of it.

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

 

 

 

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