Saturday, September 18, 2004


Today (Saturday, the 18th, til midnight EST) is the last day for entries in JudithHeartSong's Artsy Essay Contest.  

In case the link fails, try the direct route:  

The prize for the winner this month will be one of the original watercolors Judi created for J Land's first anniversary.  

The subject of the essay is:

How Art Has Influenced My Life
(this can relate to any experience you have had that has been profound, funny, or life-changing.... whatever you decide)    

It took a while for Art to worm its way into my life.

Not the art created by other people that hangs in museums and gets discussed in books. 

[I confess to still feeling somewhat removed from that experience]  

But the experience of Art as an emotion or passion that comes from the inside out. The kind that allows you to marvel at the wonder in something ordinary. Or the beauty in a moment just before it passes.  

Not that Art hasn't been trying to connect with me all long.    

I started drawing when I was very young.  I wasn't into making houses with the sun hanging up in the corner and flowers blooming in the front yard.

I only drew one thing --horses.  

From the age of seven, horses had been my passion.  If I wasn't riding them or reading about them, I was constantly drawing pictures of them.  Imagine my thrill when the lady next door thought I had traced them.  They must be really good, I thought. 

Art must have been excited at having such a young protege.  

But, for some reason, after holding my attention so completely, my interest in horses and drawing suddenly waned when I was ten.   

However, Art wasn't ready to give up on me. Around that time my parents gave me my first camera. A Kodak Brownie.

I wasn't enthralled by this gift, because I needed help to use it.  In many ways it was frustrating, not fun. Someone had to change the film and attach the flash. I couldn't just take pictures whenever I wanted.  Besides, it seemed to take so long to get the photos back.   

But I do remember how much I loved those black and white images of my dolls, riding in a tomato basket behind my stuffed dog.  Or my favorite cousins at the beach with us on vacation.  My little brother and sister playing dress up. My friends at the pond and on the playground.  

Not too long after, we moved to the suburbs and somehow the camera got put on a shelf and left there.  

I started playing the piano and cello, so that should have made Art happy.

But Art knew this wasn't an experience I would ever fully understand. Because playing a musical instrument wasn't my idea. It was my parents' idea. Over the years I would learn to memorize the music and play the notes rather well, but my heart was outside playing softball with the boys.  

So Art sat on the shelf for a couple of years.  [It must have been painful listening to those practices.]  

Then, one summer at camp I discovered, completely by accident, that I could be funny.  One moment I was just an eighth grade camper.  The next moment I was making a funny face that cracked everybody up. Then I said something amusing. During parents' weekend, I managed to keep everyone, from the counselers to the moms and dads to the crotchety camp director, in stitches. 

Art was back, knocking on my door again. But, as usual, I wasn't listening.

At school that year, I also discovered I could act and sing a tune on key. However, at the time, my only thought was, "Oh, good, now I have a way to get through high school."   

So I left Art standing outside, knocking on the door throughout high school and college.

Hello? Anybody home?  

As much fun as it was to be in school shows and singing groups, to win homecoming contests and college ensemble competitions, and of course, to make people laugh, I used all those opportunities for something else I needed -- a whole lot of attention.  

So I never realized Art was there, waiting for me.   

Even a yearlong stint in a national comedy touring company didn't allow me to see Art standing at the side of the stage, patient as ever.  I was only out there to hear the applause.  

Sorry, Art.  

I started working in advertising as a copywriter.  But, from the beginning I wasn't writing for myself.  I was writing for my bosses, my clients, and money to pay the rent.  Writing was something I had a knack for, so I used it to earn a living.  It wasn't something I had to do for my soul to survive.  

By this time, Art didn't even bother to knock anymore.  

Almost two decades later, after children, marriage and shortly before my divorce, I picked up a camera again and took some classes from a local photo store. 

We had assignments to do -- strange requests, it seemed to me.  Look for shapes, patterns and colors.  We were asked to see beyond what was there to what the picture could be.  I started shooting photographs of everything.  Plants, people, sports, sidewalks, accidents, weddings. 

I learned to look for the picture.  

Two things happened. First, I began to see the composition of a photo before snapping the shutter. 

But it was when I didn't have my camera that I really began to see life through a more beautiful lens.  

Framed by a moment in time, these images became the photographs I shot with my mind's eye.     

-- my two young children carrying red buckets and shovels, following single file behind their father at sunset as they searched the smooth, gray, wet sand of Cape Cod for clams  

-- the brightly colored, striped sails of eight small boats, racing across the black water and grey skies of the lagoons near my house   

-- the black-robed Episcopal priest, walking down the hill to the church cemetery, silhouetted against the azure sky and burnt orange leaves of fall, carrying my mother's ashes in a robin's egg blue ceramic urn

-- a magnificent, full rainbow in myriad colors that stretched from one end of Lake Michigan to the other, illuminated by a golden sun against a canvas of  storm clouds  

I love these pictures. Even though they exist only in my memory.

By now, Art had managed to get one foot in the door.

But there was something else that happened before I fully appreciated what Art was trying to tell me.  

In 1998 I spent a year traveling to New Jersey to photograph a season of football games, quarterbacked by a young friend of mine. His aunt was a college roommate.  

Usually the games were played during the day, so I could easily get great photos of all the boys. But there was one game that was played at night.

The lights were awful. Flashlights were brighter. All the news photographers were having trouble getting the action.  I was no exception. 

One of the photgraphers from a local paper gave me one of his extra lenses.  It was faster than mine.  Relieved, I thought I would finally be able to shoot some good pictures. 

But when they came back, everything was blurred.   I was beside myself. 

Each week I would blow up the photos at Kinko's and make colorful posters for the team to look at after their Friday night spaghetti dinners.  They could see how well they played the week before and get excited about the game the next day.  

Unfortunately, the pictures from that dark and gloomy night game were awful. Even with the better lens.  

Until I took a moment and looked at them again. 

[You just know Art was having some fun with me, now]  

What a shock. The photos, instead of being ruined, were actually quite beautiful.  

You could tell the subjects were football players, but there was an impressionistic feel to the pictures. The players' movement was caught in a blur of motion and colored uniforms -- a brightorange and vibrant blue. 

The boys' faces were obscured. You could barely read their numbers.   But you got a distinct sense of what it felt to be there in the game. Not just the action, but the emotion, too.  

There it was. The surprise of discovery. The sudden realization that my abject disappointment was turning into grateful astonishment. A mistake had became a marvelous creation. Something magical had happened.

And there was Art standing in the doorway, beaming like a proud father with a new baby.  

Okay, it took awhile, but I finally began to understand.                                                                                


sharkie412 said...

Wonderful story about art in your life. :) I recently was given a camera...I'm still figuring it out, but its coming along and I really do enjoy the pictures I take.

lwhitewave said...

This is terrific!  I think you should win the essay contest.  I'm glad you found your art,

merelyp said...

Art's been peering over your shoulder all that while.  You lucky.

judithheartsong said...

Lovely entry Mrs. L!! judi

lamove04 said...

Cool essay!  So you're funny??  ;-)  So Art doesn't care about applause???  !!

mosie1944 said...

I think I must have missed this one the first time around.  It's great.  Thanks for linking back to it.