Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci
 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh

 

My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one

 

and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims

 

We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper

 

We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa

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and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass

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We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table

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My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center

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The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions

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where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins

 

at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror

 

Information:

We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.

 

 

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Passion: Love and a Bit of a Rant

Monday Morning Musings

“Just another love story, that’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story – aren’t all of them the same?”

“Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am.”

–Stephen Sondheim, Passion

On Saturday, we saw Passion, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that explores what it means to love and be loved. What is romantic love? What is passion? What is obsession? How and why do dreams and desires change? These are questions that Sondheim explores in the story of the nineteenth-century Italian army officer Giorgio who is having an affair with a married woman, Clara. The show opens with the lovers in bed singing of their happiness, but then Giorgio reveals that he has received a transfer to a remote military outpost. Shortly after his arrival there, Giorgio learns of Fosca, his commanding officer’s sister whose place is set at the table, but who seldom appears there. Before long, Fosca, declares her love to Giorgio, a man she barely knows. In fact Fosca, who suffers from a vague and debilitating illness, is obsessed with Giorgio. This production at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia had a cast with wonderful voices, but it also featured a great set and lighting design: Clara was lovely and beguiling in pink-hued gowns, and bathed in golden sunshine whenever the shutters in their Milan hotel room were opened. (The lovers could only meet in the afternoon because of her husband.) Clara loves Giorgio, but perhaps her love is a diversion from her humdrum life. Fosca appears in drab gowns with the gray and dreary view of the outpost in the background. Fosca suffers from a disease of the mind and spirit, as well as her physical ailments. Or perhaps they are all one and the same. They consume her, and her obsession consumes Giorgio.

The show is based on the novel Fosca, by Ignio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti was dying of tuberculosis–also called consumption–as he wrote the book, which was inspired by events in his own life. The book was turned into a movie, Passione d’Amore (1983).

What does passion mean? Passion is an intense feeling. Long ago it was associated with pain and suffering, as in the passion of Christ, or the suffering endured by martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs. Passion is often seen as an emotion that is barely controllable because of its intensity. People are often depicted as crazed with passion. Passionate love then can be both good and bad. One can have a passion for a cause that is admirable, or that becomes obsessive.

I’ve been thinking about all this because of events in the news. There is a couple in Australia, Nick and Sarah Jensen, who have vowed to divorce if a gay marriage law is passed there. (See this article.) They are entitled to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how the marriages of same sex couples affect their own union at all. And just as a matter of logic, I don’t understand why if they reject the state’s definition of marriage—if the law passes—they then believe the state has the power to grant them a divorce. I guess it’s passion, and not logic that is in play here.

In the US, evangelist Franklin Graham, called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank after the bank began airing a TV advertisement that featured a lesbian couple adopting a child. (The commercial is incredibly sweet.) Well, economic boycotts have a long tradition in the US. My inclinations would be not to support a business that discriminates against a group rather than one that is supporting diversity. Again, Graham has the right to his own beliefs, and he does say businesses should be “gay friendly.” However, he also apparently believes that an organization should not support a position that he feels is contrary to his views–which are based on his interpretation of the bible. Do no harm to others–just don’t allow them all the same rights, I guess. Fortunately, we do not live in a theocracy. (See this.)

Neither Graham nor the Jensens advocate violence. But there are true haters, people passionate in their hatred of others. I saw this article yesterday about a young man who has been beaten and tortured—ostensibly because he is gay. His family and their business have also suffered.

You know what? Sondheim was right that every love story is the same–and every love story is different. But I believe in love. Love is love. I believe love is good. I believe love is good for families and nations. When two people who are in love—consenting adults–want to get married, it does not harm society, even if they are gay, and even if they want to have a family. “Gay marriage” is no different from straight marriage in terms of love and commitment. Couples love and share passion. This is not immoral.

You know what is immoral?

People living in extreme poverty.

People starving.

Women—and children—kidnapped and raped as tools of war.

Slavery.

Sex trafficking.

Depriving people of medical care and education.

It seems to me that if people are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their societies, those are just a few things they might focus on—not who people love. But hey, that’s just me.

As far as those filled with hate for others, I don’t know. I don’t think a hate-filled mind can love, although it can be filled with passion.