Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Art & The Human Experience

Was it the picture of an English woodland scene with a carpet of bluebells under the trees that started me saving for a trip to England? I think so. At a very early age the ice cream nickel was hoarded away for the realization of that dream (1948).
An important part of life from earliest memory has been this love for the ever-changing beauty of nature, or the interpretation of it by an artist. When given a choice between a sum of money for a wedding gift (1953) or one of A.P. Hunter's Canadian watercolors, I chose the latter. (A.P.Hunter just happened to be my boss' brother-in-law.) The scene which has graced our living rooms ever since is a satisfying view of the Laurentians, near Ottawa, Canada--especially appreciated when we were adjusting to life in Syria.
Years later when an opportunity came to work on such scenes it was a thrill to see a blank sheet of paper turn into something beautiful such as the summer scene enjoyed on a bitter winter day, or the refreshing picture of new fallen snow glistening on the trees when temperatures hover around 100 degrees.
Gardens, for me, are in the same category. You can start with a piece of wasteland and with patience creat an oasis of beauty, simply by the choice of flowers and shrubs. Passersby enjoy the yellow forsythia beside the lamp post, the tulips and daffodils in the spring. Then the lilacs and peonies burst forth and are spent far too soon. But that is not the end. The purple foxglove always spreading its territory makes a delightful showing for most of the summer. Day lilies add their cheer, clumps of phlox their color. Each variety finely designed by the great Creator of the universe. Late into the fall the surviving annuals put on their show beside the groupings of chrysanthemums which finish out the season and often catch the first snowfall. A picture not on canvas, but a picture nonetheless.
Retirement has given me the opportunity to use a God-given talent in a medium designed for joy--pastels. Pictures accumulate. I would be hard-pressed to single out a favorite. (Does one have a favorite child?) Note the limpid green pool in a Michigan forest, which beckons escape into peace and quiet. Then turn to the painting of a neighbor's garden captured on a sunny May day while sitting on their boulevard. Looking at it now, I can still feel the cool shade where I sat. There is the garden splashed in sunlight. The riot of color is provided by an abundance of perennials.
Over the piano is that view on the road from Eureka to Provo in the state of Utah. One of our son's favorite views, reminding me of visits when he was trying his hand at being a "cowboy." Now it is captured in a large-scale pastel.
Then there are the miniatures. That one with the ducks coming in for a landing reminds me of a favorite childhood vacation spot--Delta--only 18 miles from my prairie home town--a bird sanctuary at the southern end of that friendly Lake Manitoba with its endless northern view and gorgeous skies. You could walk out a mile before you came to waist-deep water. A series of sandbars gave bathers a chance to learn to swim paddling between them. What fun to walk from the east beach to the west beach, a mile or two along the shore in the wet sand. Dreamy childhood memories are evoked by one small pastel.
How does one philosophize about the effect of art in the human experience? Surely artistic gifts are a touch of the eternal. Just as one thrills to the dramatic beauty of each discovery of God's gifts to us, be it a fresh sunset or the Grand Canyon, so also in this minuscule way the human spirit is lifted upwards by recognizing something mysterious about "art." A simplistic view perhaps when you consider how much of art does not seem to be about that which is "good and pure." We need discernment in this realm also. But surely the world is a better place because of sanctified imaginations. Then these extras of life are done "to the glory of God." SWM

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