We all find our way to art in our own way. The exploratory depth can be vastly different. Some might be raised in a home filled with wonderful paintings, while others may have experienced museums filled with art with a parent or on a field trip, from a very young age. Still, others may have been whisked away on family trips abroad, on adventures with the European masters. I have to say, past a little here and there in our home growing up, and at my Grandmother’s house, memories of my early visits to see and appreciate actual paintings in museums are fairly vague.
Though my interest in having a personal relationship with art came at a very young age. Art itself, and art history was never the driving force. I have no memory of seeing my first Monet as a child and dreaming that being an artist or a painter would be my true calling. Instead, I found art as part of the curious fascination with my hands allowing me to express what my mind was thinking. I saw things in my mind. Lot’s of things and I wanted them to become real, or at least tangible. The more my brain conceptualized, the more my hands were willed to move and make things. A crayon or pencil was never any different than a hammer or saw to me. Both, instruments of creation, tools to build with.
I’ve also mentioned in past writings that art was salvation for me. My childhood was dysfunctional. Not only did my parents endlessly argue, which didn’t help my concentration and led to their divorce. I’m also dyslexic, with maybe a dose of ADD thrown in. Artistically, or even mechanically working with my mind and hands, kept me focused. If I didn’t have this, I quite frankly do not know how I would have survived, especially my high school years. Drawing, working on car models and real cars, along with writing, made up the self-preserving life raft of my youth. To this day I really believe I owe my life and sanity to creativity. For without it, I surely would have lost my marbles.
So, where some might point to the old masters as their source of artistic inspiration. For me, the choice would be much more fun. The very first art that captured my attention was without question delivered by Disney, Warner Brothers, and Hannah-Barbera, in the way of cartoons. I didn’t just watch cartoons like some little goofy kid. I entered that world with all the inquisitiveness of an explorer. In Fantasia, where most saw Mickey Mouse wizardly working with a broom and two buckets. I saw strong light, long shadows, highlights, contrast, surface treatment, all bringing a realism to this fantasy. The more simplistically a cartoon was rendered, the less I cared about it. The artistic realism, the character voice impersonations, and the music supported the narrative, and I saw that. The power of creativity was validated.
To be frank, on a museum level. My earliest memories with respect to museum visits in my birthplace of Washington, D.C., were those to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and seeing my first dioramas, both in full and miniature scales. I found it completely mind blowing as a kid to see such lifelike creations, where the realism of rocks, stumps, and tall grasses, would seamlessly blend into hand-painted mural backgrounds. How you could be so close to subjects and then led to believe in the vastness of the environment before you, but really only 15 feet deep or so? Certainly, this was taxidermy at its best, but the visual support system is what made it all like a mental adventure. The miniature dioramas of Native American life also peaked my interest in a big way. I was an avid model builder and competition award winner at a young age. Just seeing these masterworks of model making would inspire me to have a decade-long professional side career building historic automotive racing dioramas later in life, for Ferrari and many private collectors. All of it made a solid impression on me. It taught me not only how captivating creativity could be, but the importance of presentation.
In the two dimensional world of art, I have to think the first art that left an impression on me, were two hand-colored bird monographs by ornithologist and bird artist, John Gould. I liked them so much that my grandmother willed them to me and I still have them today. Unlike cartoons which were filled with movement. These were still but still filled with life and the perception of realism.
As I became a man, and the art of others became more accessible, museum visits became more frequent. Honestly though, while I can name a few well know painters, not nearly as many as one might think after spending 30 years as a painter myself. I’m not an art history guy, that’s for sure. I’m more impressed with how hard these painters had to work to follow their passion, some with amazing results. Yet, I must admit to seeing work that then and still today, leave me less than impressed.
I do remember the time that one painting blew me away. Maybe it wasn’t the first time, but it left such an impression on me that it may as well have been because I don’t recall a painting grabbing me quite this way before this time and place. It was with my wife Linda during our first trip to see the city of Paris. I remember us walking for miles and miles and seeing so much. I can recall going to the Louvre, and even seeing the Mona Lisa. But guess what? That wasn’t it. I really didn’t see why that painting became so important. But then we went to the Musée d’Orsay. Oh, there was a lot to see there, and such a tasteful museum. I was taking it all in when we rounded a corner and BAM! I was completely overwhelmed. At over 8 feet long and more than 4 feet high, “Ploughing in the Nivernais Region” By Rosa Bonheur is easily one of the most amazing landscape narrative paintings I have ever witnessed, and I do mean witnessed. To be in front of this work of art is like having the painting surround you. Its unearthed soil is so rich you can smell it. Depicted with an almost completely clear blue sky, with a verdant hillside and field, the warmth of the sunlit oxen and the fresh soil, complimented each other so wonderfully. But the realism makes you want to roll up your sleeves and lend a hand to the task of the day. What a piece of art.
Creative validation may allow just one painting like this, whose energy sticks with you, to sit deep within your mind and affect you in the best of ways. Deep in there, right where your power plant of creativity lives!
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