Monday, December 22, 2014

Do You Surround Your Writing? And with What?

My wife and I have likely always been interested in art, but it’s become something more than an interest in the last few years.

In 1999, during a belated 25th anniversary trip to Holland and France, we made sure to see the Rijksmseum in Amsterdam, if for no other reason than to see Rembrandt’s the Night Watch, then simply on display but today in its own special gallery. In Paris, we had to contend with the state workers (including museum workers) staging wildcat strikes (we quickly learned what “en strike” meant) but through constant rearranging of our schedule and a careful eye for what looked opened still managed to see The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay and the Picasso Museum. Later that same year, on a business trip to Brussels, I hurried on arrival to see the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, despite severe jetlag.

In 2005, our week in Montreal included the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Three years later, while in Chicago to see my wife’s favorite singing duo Chad & Jeremy, we managed to find time for a joint exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago – Edward Hopper and Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light.

For the last three years, we’ve spent two weeks in England, mostly London, and discovered that art and new exhibitions never stop in that great international city.

In 2012, it was Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye at the Tate Modern; the Turner collection at the Tate Britain; the Courtauld Institute of Art; the Ashmolean in Oxford; and the National Gallery. Perhaps the highlight of all of it for me was finding a painting I fell in love with at the Tate Modern: Marguerite Kelsey by Meredith Frampton (1928). In 2013, we were able to see Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure at the National Gallery on its closing day; The Queen: Art & Image at the National Portrait Gallery (and the gallery itself); and L.S. Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life at the Tate Britain.

This year, we were able to Late Turner: Painting Set Free at the Tate Britain; the Wallace Collection (including The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals); and the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art. We had planned to see the John Constable exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum but my back problems (and the subsequent two days of vacation plans lost) forced us to drop it from the itinerary. We did manage to get to Blenheim Palace and not only see the palace but the Ai Weiwei exhibition there as well.

And this year, we didn’t have to travel at all to see a wonderful exhibition at our own St. Louis Art Museum, Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from LeGray to Monet.

Yes, art has become increasingly important to us. I’ve read that this is not uncommon s you get older. Perhaps it has to do with more leisure time (and grown children). But, for me, it also has to do with something else, and it took me a while to figure it out.

Art surrounds my writing.

Music has been a powerful influence on my two novels, but art surrounds virtually everything I write. I read a lot about artists; I love non-fiction works on painting thefts and frauds (not to mention movies like The Monuments Men). I just finished reading a book on the art of Anselm Kiefer and am currently reading one on the paintings and life of Edward Hopper. And it was not a coincidence that the Sarah, the heroine of Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, is an artist, and that her painting gets caught up in her crisis of faith.

This idea of what surrounds your writing is not an idle one. In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Charity Craig (co-author with Ann Kroeker) says this: “If I’m not surrounding myself with people and books and experiences that inspire and connect with me, I may be left wondering what to write about.”

For me, it’s art that surrounds my writing.

Illustrations: Top, Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil, oil on canvas by Claude Monet (1874, St. Louis Art Museum); lower right: Marguerite Kelsey, oil on canvas by Meredith Frampton (1928; Tate Modern); lower left, The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (1624; The Wallace Collection). 


Ann Kroeker said...

Art surrounds your writing and enters it, too, of course. You have chosen well not only to give depth to your characters and interest to your blog posts, but also to fill the library of your mind with rich images from some of the world's most celebrated creatives. So much inspiration! Thanks for sharing what you surround yourself with--it allows us a glimpse into your writing life we might not otherwise see.

Monica Kaye said...

YES. This. "She reads at least one poem every day. Music is what feelings sound like in her heart and home. Observing and making art is as essential as food and water to keeping her alive. Light is her muse and darkness is her hell." (This is taken from my bio.) I have a friend who has invested in amazing art, and she loans pieces to me. The first was a stunning Mouly that hung by my bed and gave me hope during a dark period. After that was a Dali from his Biblia Sacra watercolors, and I currently have a Chagall of the prophetess Deborah. (Do you know about Dali's Biblia Sacra paintings? They were watercolors produced as illustrations for a new edition of the Bible. Dr. Giuseppe Albaretto, a devout man and Dali’s friend and patron, had great faith and dedication to the Catholic Church. It was this faith and dedication that lead him, in 1963, to commission Salvador Dali to create the illustrations. Dr. Albaretto knew that the project would require Dali to study the Bible, and he hoped this would bring his artist friend back to God. From this commission came the Biblia Sacra, as series of surreal depictions of key themes from the Bible. The Biblia Sacra suite consists of 105 color mixed-technique lithographs after 105 watercolor paintings created by Dali between 1963 and 1964.) This made me think of the St. Johns Bible. It was at our local art museum this year and inspired me for months after pouring over it. If you haven't seen it, you must. Thank you for sharing this part of your life.

Lynn said...

This is a lovely post, Glynn, and I appreciate that you have illustrated it with the beauty of the masters. I recognized the Monet painting, which was at our museum in St. Louis recently. My husband, Michael, daughter, Sheridan, and I have had the privilege of visiting some of the museums that you and your wife did, abroad. There is simply not enough time to linger over paintings on a trip as long as I would like to study and absorb them, but it is an unimaginable thrill to view the work of the masters and see personally the paintings you've only admired one-dimentionally in books. I especially loved the Tate Museum, Monet museum, the Louvre, and the Rijksmseum. If you are ever in England again, I'd also highly recommend the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I also surround myself with the art works of our daughter, at art major, who will graduate this coming May! :-) I tell her she will beome a favorite painter someday and support her aging parents in style! And quite literally, I surround myself when music when I write, particularly the Baroque masters. My favorite is Bach. I write better with music lilting in the background! And now, the carols of Christ inform my writing and my life. We must graviate to the beauty of all arts in this lost and broken world.

Charity Singleton Craig said...

Glynn - You are singing my heart's song here, too. Of course I wrote about our museum membership in the book, but just this week I was thinking anew how to bring more of me to art and more of art to my writing. I love the way you value and prioritize the viewing and experiencing of art. I love the way it feeds your soul and informs your writing. Keep at it, friend. It's revealing all kinds of beautiful in what you are creating.