Yesterday I left work early to scout a nearby private garden for a photo shoot.
That probably sounds glamorous, but it’s not really. It’s really about walking into a stranger’s house and life, wondering what part of the lawn you can step on, explaining how your smartphone has a better lens and more resolution than your four-year-old point-and-shoot so you’ll be using it for pictures even though it makes you look like a high schooler, and trying to cushion their expectations in case their home winds up not being the right spot to photograph.
But yesterday it was sort of glamorous. The woman who owned the home is an artist who mostly paints watercolors of palms. If you think (as I did yesterday before walking through her in-home gallery. Yes, her in-home gallery.) that sounds repetitive and boring, it’s not. Her work was so colorful and loving. You can tell she adores palms.
The palms were why I was there. She has dozens of varieties in her garden and when she set me loose to wander and take photos (yay! Thank you for not insisting on following me around!), it felt like exploring the Secret Garden, only with redwoods and palms and succulents rather than English boxwood.
But the most interesting moment happened back in her studio where she showed me the piece she was almost finished with and I wondered how weird it would be if I asked if I could take a photo of her doors, which were covered in color gradation swatches–her own palette of the colors she goes back to again and again.
I told her the truth: I don’t know a lot about “art.” I asked her a bunch of questions, apologizing the whole time. Then she said, “All art shares the same basic principles. Painting, writing, dancing…if you look, you’ll see they share qualities like rhythm, texture, and the change in value from the lightest point to the darkest.”
Then I told her about this video of two members of the New York Ballet dancing on a rooftop to mark the day after the most recent 9/11 anniversary. I excitedly described how I felt watching it and how I could see the rhythm and range of emotion in it. I think that’s why she hugged me when I left.
I’ve been thinking about that today. What is textural writing? What is a story that goes from the lightest to the darkest point? (Perhaps A Tale of Two Cities?) And why am I in such a rush to start and finish A Book instead of exploring the art of what I can write and trusting that as I practice, I’ll paint my own swatches of color to use again and again. I’ll find my voice and my rhythm and my texture through a lifetime of putting my pen to paper the way she puts her brush to paper.
So maybe I can learn a little about art.