Still Life

Monday Morning Musings:

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

–Leonard Bernstein

(For information on this quote. Go here. )

I had meant to write a different post,

One discussing food and family

Something new,

I know,

But then there was Paris

And Beirut,

And death everywhere.

It’s all I could think about.

But life goes on.

And there was art.

A still life by my mom.

A still life by my mom.

My husband and I went to the museum

To see an exhibition on American still life,

And when I said “still life”

To myself

There was the epiphany.

(From the Greek,

Meaning reveal.)

Art does reveal,

Of course.

But it was the words–

Still AND life

That’s what hit me.

Despite the attempts

By terrorists

To massacre

Not only people,

But to destroy

Art, music, culture,

The history, beauty, and wisdom

Of the ages

They have not won.

There is

Still

Life.

Still life the art form

Displays what people value

Or want to present to the world

It can be a reflection of the ordinary

Or the sublime.

Often both.

Raphaelle Peale’s blackberries

Looked so luscious

I wanted to pluck them from the canvas.

A little girl ran to a Calder mobile,

A water lily,

In delight.

The guard and I smiled at each other.

“It is wonderful to see so many children here,”

I said.

And she agreed.

The next generation

Seeing beauty and creativity,

And all sorts of people were there.

A French-speaking family stood

Behind me.

A woman with gray hair

And a ready smile

In a wheelchair

Moved around the exhibition room

As though her chair was a chariot.

A tall man in a blue sweater stooped

To read a label

Supported by his cane.

From American still life,

Audubon’s birds

“Are they dead?”

The girl asked her mother

To Warhol’s Brillo Pads

We traveled to another gallery.

Rubens’ “Prometheus Bound,”

Bound again

And again

For bringing the fire of creativity to humankind.

He suffered perpetual torture

Until freed by Hercules.

His position mirroring

Michelangelo’s risen Christ.

Wrath of the gods

And resurrection.

The triumph of human spirit

And imagination

Rendered over and over.

Humans suffer for art

And for that creative spark.

And art suffers from human destructiveness.

We saw paintings

Retrieved by

The Monuments Men.

Paintings stolen

In another war.

Evil and good,

History and art,

Gods and men.

In another room

A Buddhist monk in saffron robe and black sandals

Admired Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,”

Another still life

By a tortured soul.

But still,

Life.

We had seen a play the day before.

Equivocation.

That was the title,

Not what we did,

At least not then,

Because after all,

Haven’t we all

Equivocated?

The play was about Shakespeare,

And history,

And truth

And lies

And theater.

In other words,

Life.

The creation of truth

Or legends.

And don’t forget the witches.

Richard III and his hump,

A creation of the playwright,

And Agincourt,

The legend immortalized,

But after all,

The St. Crispin’s Day speech

Is grand and glorious,

We happy few

Going into battle.

Still life

A tableau

A freeze frame

Of a particular moment

In time

On stage,

But in our minds, too,

As we recall

“Where were you when it happened?”

Everyone remembers.

I was in second grade when JFK

Was assassinated.

I was on my way to the gym

When the first plane struck the twin towers.

Moments observed

And never forgotten.

We went to the movies,

My husband and I,

Spotlight

The name of the movie,

A noun and a verb.

A moment revealed

And highlighted.

The power of the press

Uncovering a cover-up

Exposing what had been buried

With the help of many

In the church and government.

What is the opposite

Of wrath of the gods?

The triumph of the human spirit?

Truth

Not equivocation.

Buildings

And photos

Colored in red, blue, and white

In solidarity

Revealing

The human impulse

To do something

In the face of evil

And who says it does no good?

As we are reminded

Time and time again

One person can bring about

Change.

Gandhi said,

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

And

So

In the horror

Of Paris,

Beirut,

The abuse of children,

The censorship of ideas,

The destruction of art,

We mourn,

And

We go about life

Without equivocation

Without hesitation

Revealing truth

Life

Still

But

Not stilled.

Life

Creating

Loving

Being.

More intensely,

More beautifully,

More devotedly

Than ever

Before.

My mom with one of her still life paintings at an exhibit.

My mom with one of her still life paintings at an exhibit.

Further Information:

Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life

The Wrath of the Gods: Masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian

Equivocation at the Arden Theatre. You can read more about the play here.

Spotlight the film

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26 thoughts on “Still Life

  1. I saw the Bernstein quote on Facebook yesterday and appreciate your bringing it to life here with a link. Music . . . visual art, it’s what makes us human. I really like your mother’s art. Her pieces evoke Cezanne for me, paintings that invite us to stand still and reflect.

    Truth and equivocation, art and love – still, life!

  2. Merril, you always write so beautifully from the heart infusing your musings with memories, history and family. Your mother’s painting is excellent but what I loved most was the photo of her with her painting, which made it so personal. Usually, you don’t see the painting with the artist and this casual photo takes you into a personal, private moment…th fly on the wall.
    You’ve already read my views about the horrors of Paris. Such devastation. So hard to understand and even harder to understand how life goes on regardless. There’s a beauty in that but also a touch of callousness.
    I went down to the beach this morning to work on a before and after the storm post and all the earthmoving equipment is gone and other than a few sandbags peeking out of the dunes, you’d never know there’d ever been such a crisis. It is abeautiful Summer’s day. Aside from the Christmas period, it’s never really crowded down there but there were a few sunbakers, dogwalkers etc. No hail.
    Hope you have a good week.
    xx Rowena

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you liked that photo of my mom with her painting. It’s one I had forgotten about, so I was happy to rediscover it.

      I had also thought if it seemed callous to say life goes on when possibly someone you loved has been lost or wounded, but I hope that people will know I mean in general.

      I’m glad the beach is so peaceful and no signs of crisis remain. Or hail! 🙂

  3. A wonderful blend of current events, a weekend, history, and reality … thus quite the range of emotions. I found out about the senseless Paris terror while at a rehearsal dinner for our niece.

  4. Thank you Merril. I’ll never look at a painting in the same way again. Such a wonderful meaning to the words, still life, and life, still. And, yes, we’re always reminded of the human spirit that somehow rises above the darkness. The artist who creates in spite of …

  5. Pingback: » When Words Just Will Not Do

  6. Beautiful and sage poem. The tone and flow so well meshed with the sentiment contained in the words. I was mentioning to my SO yesterday how sad it was when I was the Museum D’Orsay and watching people just click a photo of a painting, then move to the next, click, move onto the next one, and so on. The pic of your mom with her wonderful still life shows her engaging art the way it should be.

    • Thank you so much, Elusive Trope, for stopping by and for your kind words. Yes, it is sad when people just check off art on their “to do” lists. The people who were at the art museum the day we went seemed genuinely interested to be there.

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