Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Benched Week 55: the lessons of three benches

Bench #1

I needed a calm place. Having driven seven hours to New Hampshire, I sought out the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site for a quiet moment or two.  But a testy email from a client rattled me.  I sought a spot where I could soak in nature and perhaps sketch a bit.

This beautiful, curved bench seemed just right.  I sat, got out my sketch pad and drew.  Still agitated, I found the process of sinking down into the sketch a retreat. 

As I watched other visitors stop and snap cell phone shots of the garden, I thought about how we often use photos as a kind of enjoyment lay-away: tucking the beauty into our cameras to have the fun in reflection, often missing it in the moment.

The first bench reminded me of the need to take time to savor beauty.


Bench #2

The sketch finished, I started roaming the grounds. The annoyance returned.  By the time I found this bench along a tree-lined path, I was on the phone with Alison, whose advice helped me put things in perspective.

Artists are often thought of as loners, who pursue their vision in solitude. 

But Augustus Saint-Gaudens knew the role others could play in his work.  He had assistants to help him create his large sculptures. 

Augustus also had his wife, Augusta.  (I wonder in what month they married?)  And other artists, who saw his idyllic home, came to New Hampshire to live nearby.  In fact, his house became the center of the Cornish Art Colony.  He frequently had creative people over for dinner and parties.

This bench reminded me that art needs a community.


 Bench #3

Saint-Gaudens sought to have viewer interaction, so in this figure of Admiral Farragut, he had his pedestal designer put in two benches to invite onlookers to be a part of the work. I sat down on one, feeling the delicious coolness of the stone against my back.  Thankful for his invitation, I felt my participation continued to keep the work alive in a small way.

This last bench challenged me to keep an invitational element in my own work, making it more than just a statement of who I am, but an offer to my viewers (or readers) to come, to share something together with me.

Like the advice of three benches.  Wisdom without words.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Benched Week 54: the trap of success

I’ve never seen a downtown as empty on a Sunday night as St. Paul, Minnesota was last night.  It was like the city was asleep in the daylight. And judging by the number of people snoozing in parks, that’s not just a simile.

I started out with high hopes, impressed with an overpass view of the mighty Mississippi.  But the first park was a bust.  It was hotter than I had expected.  Most of the people I passed seemed a bit off.

Just when I was considering calling it a day, I ran into an old friend.

I was an early fan of Peanuts.  When the cartoon strip was converted into television specials, I recorded the music on a reel-to-reel player with a microphone held up to the TV set, so that I could teach myself the music on the piano.  Linus and Lucy, the most recognizable of the melodies, became my signature tune throughout junior high.

Pleased to find Marci on a bench, I sat a while with her and asked her what she was reading.  She was too engrossed to answer.

As the sun created intricate reflections on the buildings above me, I reflected on the price of success.

Charles Schulz was incredibly successful with his characters.  But acclaim can be a trap.  Because of the brilliance of his early years, Schulz stayed with his round-headed kids long past the point when he had fresh things to say.  In my mind, his later years were spent more on cashing in on them than on stretching himself.  Contrast that to Bill Watterson, who walked away from Calvin and Hobbes (and a barge-load of money) because he felt he had done enough with them.  I respect that.  Just as I respect an athlete who knows when to hang up his cleats.  Or flip-flops.

It’s an interesting question: would you rather do one thing well, or dabble in many?  I have chosen the latter – partly by necessity, partly by a deep-seated desire to explore.  It drove me recently to add watercolor crayons into my scribing, and last week, to buy a pricey draw-on monitor so that I can scribe during conference calls. Why stay pat when there’s something exciting just around the bend of the river?

So, when the sun goes down on my career, I think I’d rather be known by the breadth of my work. Hopefully it'll be more than an inch deep in meaning, but definitely a mile wide in scope.  There’s too much fun in the journey to ever fall asleep on the shore.