After traveling through the alphabet with the likes of Botticelli, Munch, Da Vinci and immersing myself in such incredible paintings as Christina’s World, The Scream, Picasso’s Dove of Peace, I had to finish the series off with a tribute to my very favourite dead artist…my grandfather or “Papa” who used to draw my brother and I little cartoons, which he’s stick in with a letter or card. As a kid, they were magic and they still are.
My grandparents always lived inter-state and back in those days, letter writing was a very regular thing along with the weekly phone call. My grandparents always had two telephones in my time, and there would be one on each phone so neither of them would miss out on a single word from us. In hindsight, it was truly amazing growing up knowing they loved me that much. Indeed, my grandmother said to me once, that she didn’t even care if I wrote her letters on toilet paper. So often, particularly during my teenage years, their love held me together as the swirling vortex of pubescence engulfed me in waves of angst. Family was their world and they had so much love to give. That’s particular true of most grandparents who are freed up from the demands of parenting just to love and be loved and my parents are carrying this forward.
Anyway, this is a tribute to my grandfather and his little drawings.
Life was much simpler back in the 70s and 80s. My grandparents used to post me a $5.00 note for my birthday and quite often there might be a washer or something simple in there as well. Or, perhaps that was in the Christmas parcel, which came wrapped very simply in brown paper and string, both most likely “recycled”. My grandfather’s motto was “waste not, want not”, which never made any sense to me. If I didn’t want it, I didn’t care. Indeed, it was more a case of: “Good Riddance!” Another one of his sayings was: “Die Gänse gehen uberall barfuss ” or “The geese go barefoot everywhere”. I was most surprised when I finally made it to Germany in my twenties, that most of the Germans had never heard this phrase before. Even Google was rather stumped but did come up with this:
The drawing I’ve posted was drawn in 1976 when I was 6 years old and our school choir was making a record. This was a very big deal back then. My nickname as a child was “Nina and my mother was the accompanist. I particularly love the little record player he’s drawn down the front doing the recording. However, that’s not the only dinosaur in the picture. The piano is almost a dinosaur these days as well.
Above: The Kids and I outside Haebich’s Cottage in Hahndorf where my Great Grandfather was born and died. Top right… Haebich’s Smithy by Hans Heysen. The Haebich’s owned the blacksmith’s shop on Main Street, Hahndorf and it was depicted by three highly esteemed Aus tralian artists.
The other interesting thing about my grandfather, was that he was born and raised in Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and he was full of crazy stories about the place, which I always listened to with baited breath. This town was populated with real characters and he real brought them and the place to life.
That was until his memory started to fade. The stories stopped, and tragically Alzheimer’s moved in and forced him out. He was about 90 by then and reached the grand age of 95. I sometimes wonder whether his brain just ran out from over-use or whether it was just bad luck. I guess when you’re over 90, the odds are that Alzheimer’s is gunna get you. It’s unfortunately, a much too common end of a brilliant life.
So, this officially marks the end of my A-Z Series: Letters to Dead Artists. This train has terminated. All out. All change.
Many thanks for joining me and my crazy crew of artists for the journey.
Welcome to the second last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, we’re moving onto Irish artist, Jack Butler Yeats (1887-1957), who was not only a painter, but also won a medal in swimming at the x Olympics, wrote poetry and novels including a stream of conscious novel, which had the nod from none less than James Joyce of Ulysses fame himself. I’m not sure whether this qualifies him as a Renaissance Man, but he certainly could pass as Rodin’s Thinker, which represents a fusion of athletic fitness, the intellect and the poetic mind (at least in my humble, unqualified opinion!)
Initially, I’d chosen Jack Butler Yeats, because I’d written top his brother, William Butler Yeats, two years ago when my A-Z theme was Writing Letters to Dead Poets. While I didn’t know much about either brother at the outset, I felt a connection through our shared Irish blood. That although I’m a sixth generation Australian and my last Irish ancestor arrived in 1855, that I still have more than a glass and a half of Irish in me and I’ve been wanting to explore my own cultural heritage further.
We’ll be accompanied by The Dubliners playing The Town I Loved So Well.
Born in London in 1887, Jack Yeats was the youngest son of Irish portrait artist, John Butler Yeats and Susan Pollexfen, and the brother of W. B. Yeats, who received the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature. He grew up in County Sligo, Ireland with his maternal grandparents, and was deeply influenced by his grandfather, William Pollexfen who was a former seaman. He returned to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for magazines, drew comic strips and wrote articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird”. In 1894, he married Mary Cottenham, also a native of England, and they resided in County Wicklow. From around 1920, Yeats developed into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He was sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believed that ‘a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints’, and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helped capture 20th century Dublin , partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett wrote that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also paid tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know”. Moreover, his father recognized that Jack was a far better painter than he, and also believed that ‘some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack’. Jack Yeats died in Dublin in 1957, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Perhaps I’m running out of brainpower towards the end of the challenge, or Jack Butler Yeats is more difficult to fathom than most. That’s why he’s running a day late. The more I get to know him, the more confused I become. I guess that’s a natural part of getting to know anyone. That, after you get passed those initial introductions, it’s like all the pieces suddenly fall out of the cereal box at once, and it takes time and effort to assemble them into any kind of picture. If I was a surrealist like Salvador Dali, or an abstract expressionist like Jackson Pollock, that might not matter. They’ve already accepted that nothing makes sense. That there is no natural order of things, and our world is utter chaos. However, my background is in historical research where you research, document and footnote the facts. Moreover, you’re also meant to come up with conclusions, which should look more like a neat stack of boxes, than multi-coloured scribble on a whiteboard, which is how my thoughts are looking right now.
This brings me to that great imponderable…Can anyone truly know anyone? I mean even when you look into your nearest and dearest’s eyes, how much do you really see? How well do you really know them? Can you be sure? Or, are you seemingly dancing together, yet actually listening to different songs with entirely different meanings? Since most of us marry our opposite, it’s probably more than likely. Yet, diversity, and having complementary skill sets and the capacity to extend each other, are all wonderful things. It’s just that sometimes it’s nice to look into someone’s eyes, and at least see a glimpse of ourselves. Get the feeling they’ve walked in our shoes…and reciprocate.
My dog has mastered this, especially when I’m cooking. Lady sits there at the foot of the stove and could easily take out “Best in Show” switching on her huge, chocolate-brown eyes, oozing with so much love and understanding, that I fall completely under her spell and feed her. Yet, for some reason we humans are losing the art of eye-contact, especially in this age of the screen. It really helps to bridge the gap between two souls.
Anyway, immersing myself in all things Jack Butler Yeats, last night I was reading: Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. Before I start linking some of his thoughts to his paintings, I thought I’d go off course again, and share some of his thoughts about poets and poetry…
“With the man of poetical temperament experience is an end in itself. Others go through life, as though they were tourists, with their eyes open for enjoyment and some kind of profitable speculation.”
“Carlyle was by nature all poet and musician, but his Scotch conscience put a veto on his natural inclinations. He married an ugly wife, thereby perhaps scaring away the Muses. It is often so.”
“…there is another type (of man) the man who does not want to rule or be ruled, and that is the man who writes poetry.”
One of the resounding themes of these letters was just how much Yeats valued solitude, and it could well be said that he elevated the Solitary Man to the heights of Da Vinci’s Renaissance Man.
“I will write again of the solitary man. First of all, alone among men, he is himself and only himself. The companionable man is himself and someone else, seeking expression through the medium of prose or action, thinking of other people and therefore always leaning towards compromise and for that reason working in a spirit of insincerity. Poetry is the voice of the solitary, as resonant and as pure and lonely as the lark at sunrise. If the lark were to bother itself with the `Collective Soul’ of the universe, it would not sing at all. Again, the solitary is the only man who retains his spiritual integrity. With the companionable, belief is opinion living in the heart of talk or action, and dying away when the heat fades.
Old hermits were right in their instinct for the desert since it meant a living to oneself, wrong in the sense that it meant a separation from human voices and from the faces of men, women and children, an uprooting of the human plant from its natural surroundings.”
However, as much as Yeats elevated the solitary man, he populates his paintings with people and there was one particular story I came across which revealed he had quite a love and compassion for the every day person on the street, or in this instance train, and their story. For this story, we’re turning to Man on a Train Thinking 1928.
The painting went up for auction recently and this account appeared in The Irish Times:
“The painting depicts a man whom Yeats met on a train from Dublin to the west in 1928. Yeats apparently noticed a man “in the corner of the carriage, who had a woebegone expression and whose coat and collar were buttoned up to his ears”.
He looked so wan and sad that the artist asked him: “Are you ill? Can I do anything to help you?”
“No, sir, thank you,” replied the man.“You see, it’s like this, sir,” he continued. “I bought a ticket for the Calcutta sweepstake for a pound note. Then I sold it to a man for £2. And now that ticket has won a prize for a hundred thousand,” and he sighed dolefully.
“Great heavens,” Yeats said, “if that happened to me I’d have cut my throat.” Then, to the artist’s consternation, his sickly looking fellow-traveller moaned: “That’s just what I have done, sir!”.
By the way, I completely misread this painting. What I saw was a man sitting on the train reading a book. Yeats’ solitary man…the poet. This interpretation really resonated with me as the only time I can really get stuck into a book, is on the train, although I always write a lot too and always take a notepad and a book with me. That said, I’ve also been caught short, and resorted to those last blank pages they leave at the back of the book. BY the way, my train trip is quite scenic, as the train snakes around the waterfront and crosses over the Hawkesbury River Bridge. The view’s particularly magnificent at sunset, illuminated by the golden glow of the setting sun.
Yeats also addressed the social isolation experienced by people who are different in some way and saw it as a mixed blessing:
“A man on his deathbed or after he has been snubbed by his wife may enjoy a few moments of solitude, the rest of his life is a noisy gregariousness. He fears solitude as a child fears the dark, indeed it is a universal dread which one must learn to conquer. A poet learns his lesson generally by finding himself early in life shunned, he is odd. `Why was I born with a different face?’ Blake asked. Genius is fundamentally odd and men hate the exceptional.”
As you might recall, people with extraordinary physical appearance often became attractions in the circus, where they became spectacles for general entertainment. In A Giant Reading, he’s showing two circus weirdos sitting together…the tallest man in the world and the blonde woman sitting next to him is an albino. Of course, that wasn’t how I saw it and thought it was possibly a couple who’d just got married…the newlyweds.
Finally, I just wanted to mention Among the Reeds. Although I don’t get out very often, I love kayaking and when my parents had a holiday house on the waterfront, I used to paddle along a narrow waterway through the mangroves and almost disappear. It was magical, being surrounded by nature on all four sides, and inhaling and exhaling with King Neptune and anything else that was above or below the water.
By the way, I just stumbled upon an article in the Irish Times, which exposes Jack Butler Yeats greatest secret in The Secret Life of Jack Yeats. I decided not to ruin the anticipation and highly recommend you read the article itself. Clearly, I am not the only one who found that the various pieces of Jack Yeats which weren’t fitting together very well.
After all this challenging research, I’ve almost run out of steam. However, I’d better get that letter written…
A Letter to Jack Butler Yeats
You were quite a letter writer back in your day, so I hope you’ll be pleased to hear from me. I can’t remember exactly why I started writing these Letters to Dead Artists. Of course, I needed some kind of theme for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge and while it’s decimated my capacity to keep up with the day to day, this daily pressure cooker environment does wonders for my writing, and instead of editing my work over and over and over an\gain and filing it in the bottom drawer or my hard drive, it’s post and up on the world wide web. It’s out there. It’s almost turning me into a Woman of Action, although I’m still too much of an over-thinker to get there yet.
Anyway, as I said, I’m not exactly sure why I started writing these letters. I honestly don’t feel like I’m really communicating with the dead and it’s surely not you guys replying back to me and yet there’s stuff popping into these letters which clearly hasn’t come from myself. It’s all a bit of a mystery really, but I’m not the first creative soul who’s experienced “the muse”. Indeed, you wrote:
“The solitary is one with the forces of nature, with which no man can argue; every action and thought of his mind and every feeling comes from sources beyond our utmost ken. And in thus describing the solitary, am I not uncovering what is the essence of that true poetry which I have called the voice of the solitary?”
I have a feeling that when you passed away and crossed over the rainbow bridge as we say about our dog, you took a few pieces out of the puzzle with you so that any nosy parkers like myself who came snooping around in your wake, would only get more and more confused the more they delved into the pot. Indeed, I can’t help wondering whether you completely dismantled or even burned up your studio to maintain your mystique. French artist and sculptor Edgar Degas, who you might’ve known, is regretting not torching his studio, now he’s seen what they’ve done to the Little Dancer. He’s still dropping F bombs and it’s now been a few weeks. He’s even tried to snatch her out of the Louvre to blow her up. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you could become implicated. It’s bad enough I’m in on it.
Anyway, the whole idea of these letters is to ask each artist a question. I guess my question for you, is how focused should an artist, writer, creative person be on the task at hand? Or, should they leave themselves some room to jump off the railway track and even go right off the grid? You achieved so much across a range of fields, that you were clearly able to divide your focus and back a few winning horses at the same time. I often find that I stumble across things and most of my best work has been completely spontaneous. Indeed, this series is a case in point. I simply started out with a list of artists but even that’s changed and I only plucked you out of the hat two days ago out of some inexplicable gut feel. That said, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the letter Y.
Anyway, you’d better join the train with the rest of the rabble. I’m sorry your journey will be so short. There’s only one day to go.
A Letter From William Butler Yeats.
Thank you so much for your letter. Ezra Pound snatched it straight out of my hands. He calls himself my “Letter Keeper”. Indeed, it’s been a bit tricky because of course I have to keep my correspondence with Punch Magazine a secret and I couldn’t have him knowing that I’m “W. Bird”. Clearly, he’s not very discreet as he’s already published my private letters.
Well, I don’t know if this answers your question, but here goes:
“Reason is a school-master calling his boys into school, imagination is a school master in a happy mood dismissing them to wander in the woods, for the space of that holiday every boy to be his own master. “
Does that help? In my day, we also said you needed to stop to smell the roses. That doesn’t mean you can only smell roses and keep walking past the frangipanni, lavender or wattle blossoms if I’m over your way. It means you’ve got to take time out of the everyday and immerse yourself in nature for awhile. Recharge your soul, just like you people are constantly charging your stupid phones.
Well, I’d better post this before Ezra sees it.
 Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound. This letter was dated February 6th, 1915
 Ibid December 21st, 1914.
 Ibid September 6, 1915 p 14.
 Ibid April 2nd, 1915 pg 41.
 Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats Selected By Ezra Pound, 1910. This letter was dated January 6, 1916 p 47.
7. Ibid April 2nd, 1915 pg 43.
Meanwhile, in 1887, Rodin produced The Kiss, a marble sculpture
originally representing Paolo and Francesca, two characters borrowed from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Slain by Francesca’s husband who surprised them while exchanging their first kiss, the two lovers were condemned to wander eternally through Hell. This group, designed in the early stages of the elaboration of The Gates, was given a prominent position on the lower left door, opposite Ugolino, until 1886, when Rodin decided that this depiction of happiness and sensuality was incongruous with the theme of his vast project. He therefore transformed the group into an independent work and exhibited it in 1887, when the public called it The Kiss. The French state commissioned an enlarged version in marble, which Rodin took nearly ten years to deliver. Not until 1898 did he agree to exhibit what he called his “huge knick-knack” as a companion piece to his audacious Balzac , as if The Kiss would make it easier for the public to accept his portrait of the writer 3.
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, gleams in all its power. Otherwise the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could a smile run through the placid hips and thighs to that dark center where procreation flared. Otherwise this stone would seem defaced beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur: would not, from all the borders of itself, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926
After covering so much ground, midnight will soon be upon me and another day and another artist will be dawning, before my letter to Rodin is even done.
A Letter to Auguste Rodin
A Letter From Rodin
“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.”
Make of that what you will.
Anyway, knowing how much you loved Rilke’s Letters to Young Poets, I thought I’d share my theories with you on what it means to be an artist…
What It Means To Be An Artist – By Me
- “The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.”
- To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.
- To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.
- In short, Beauty is everywhere. It is not that she is lacking to our eye, but our eyes which fail to perceive her. Beauty is character and expression. Well, there is nothing in nature which has more character than the human body. In its strength and its grace it evokes the most varied images. One moment it resembles a flower: the bending torso is the stalk; the breasts, the head, and the splendor of the hair answer to the blossoming of the corolla. The next moment it recalls the pliant creeper, or the proud and upright sapling.
- Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit of which nature herself is animated.
- The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. Be a man before being an artist!
- The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.
There are unknown forces in nature; when we give ourselves wholly to her, without reserve, she lends them to us; she shows us these forms, which our watching eyes do not see, which our intelligence does not understand or suspect.
The human body is first and foremost a mirror to the soul and its greatest beauty comes from that.
The work of art is already within the block of marble. I just chop off whatever isn’t needed.
The artist enriches the soul of humanity. The artist delights people with a thousand different shades of feeling.
Love your calling with passion, it is the meaning of your life.
Well, Rowena. That was some coffee. My thinking cap’s almost blown a gasket coming up with all of those gems. I hope you like them. They’re my personal gift to you.
Yours in friendship,
PS Did you know that the first version of The Thinker is actually in Australia? Sorry, it’s not in your Art Gallery of NSW, but it is in Art Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. I know you’ve spent more time in Paris, than in Melbourne, but it’s worth the trip and you should also keep your eyes open for all the other genius works of art that are in Australia. You often just need to look under your nose and don’t need to wait until you can afford the big trip.
References & Further Reading
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, we’re off to catch up with Vincent Van Gogh, the “Painter of Sunflowers”, who is equally well-known for his Starry Night and many other iconic works. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh somehow opened Blake’s “doors of perception” and possibly even saw a glimpse of something in between Heaven and Earth. He was indeed a visionary genius.
If you are interested in some musical accompaniment, here’s Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night
It’s no secret that “Vincent The Man” was more beautiful, intricate and complex than any of his paintings. While his self-portraits barely scratch the surface, the inner man is best revealed through his letters to his beloved brother, Theo, an art dealer who financed his entire artistic enterprise. Indeed, these letters are considered masterpieces in their own right.
“But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at times perhaps. I won’t harp on it, and what am I to say to you about it?”
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh Arles, 17 January 1889
Yet, it is also well-known that Vincent Van Gogh had a tortured existence. That, despite the vibrant colours almost glowing in his later works, he experienced extreme hardship, failure and rejection most of his life. Indeed, he only sold one painting in his life time. That’s hard going. So, you could say that all these failures added up and that these, combined with his psychological troubles, caused him to cut off his ear and ultimately commit suicide.
Or, so the story goes…
Trying to remember when I first “discovered” Vincent, is like trying to track down the origins of a dream. There are endless stars and nebulae with no beginning. His paintings expressed an anguish, an inner-chaos which I couldn’t put into words. You see, I spent the first 28 years of my life living with undiagnosed, untreated hydrocephalus, which I jokingly call: “a harbour in my head”. In the year leading up to surgery, I experienced a myriad of bizarre neurological symptoms. So, you could almost say those swirls in Starry Night, had moved inside head. Indeed, my head was like a pressure-cooker about to explode. So, it’s no wonder Vincent made sense and somehow he cast a light out of the darkness. Indeed, it was the light of a thousand stars.
In April 1992, my best friend and I touched down in Amstersdam. I was a 22 year old Australian backpacker, and I’d just finished my university studies. It was an exhilarating time. My cocooned world of intensive study had sprung open, and I’d flown to the other side of the world. You can’t get much more liberated than that, and being in Europe for the very first time, was incredible. It blew me away.
In those early days, we not only visited the Anne Frank House, but we also went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was there, seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in the flesh, that Vincent suddenly came to life with the force of a thousand stars. That was now over 25 years ago, so much of the detail has faded. Yet, I still vividly remember how his paintings came to life. Indeed, I could swear they were moving. You know, the irises, the sunflowers… The whole experience blew my mind.
A few months later, I even visited his house…The Maison de Van Gogh in Cuesmes, Belgium near Mons. This was where Van Gogh worked as an itinerant preacher. That was yet another mind-blowing Vincent experience.
Vincent and I were growing closer…
When it comes to Vincent’s works, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Of course, there’s Starry Night, but I also love his Sunflower series. I love sunflowers, but when you hear that the Amsterdam Sunflower contains 32 different tones of yellow, you’ve got to respect the mind-boggling genius of the man, and his sensitive attentive to detail. As a cafe lover, I adore Cafe Terrace At Night 1888.
After immersing myself in all things Vincent for the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been struck by an intriguing pair of paintings: Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (left) and Gauguin’s Armchair (1888). The two chairs are like chalk and cheese and were painted while Gauguin stayed with Vincent at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent’s chair was comparatively simple and painted in daylight. On the other hand, Gauguin’s chair was much more sophisticated, and it was painted at night. Van Gogh seemingly hero-worshipped Gauguin and bent over backwards to prepare the Yellow House for his arrival. This included painting the first of the two sunflower paintings to decorate the walls. He also had furniture made and asked Theo to help Gauguin out of his financial woes . However, their friendship became rather tempestuous. During a heated argument, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Gauguin returned to Paris. The breakdown in their friendship must’ve devastated Vincent.
Van Gogh’s Last Days
Unfortunately, no discussion of Vincent Van Gogh is complete without addressing the psychological/psychiatric struggles which plagued him towards the end of his life. These, as you may well be aware, culminated in him cutting off his ear and ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. He died two days later.
Vincent was only 37 years old.
If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s and are particularly interested in his last days, I strongly recommend you see the movie: Loving Vincent. It’s now available on DVD. They have animated hundreds of his paintings in the movie, and also question whether he actually took his own life.
So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Vincent Van Gogh:
Letter to Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent! Vincent! Wherefore art thou, Vincent? You appear before me like a dream, an apparition. Stars are swirling through a wave of blue, carrying me to a place inside my head, which exists somewhere beyond the lines.
Like you, I feverishly work away. Not for dollars and cents or immediate payment, but through a belief in something bigger. I don’t know whether you can set a dollar amount on that. Yet an artist, a writer, needs to eat and pay for their kids’ school shoes and excursions. These realities place a sense of gravity on even the most inspired imagination. That is, unless we have no strings, no ties to hold us down to the earth, and we can just do as we please. However, that life is not for me. As much as I might crave time and space to write and “be”, I’d die in my own orbit. My family and I are one, interwoven, yet each is our own being (however that works).
Vincent, I hope you don’t mind me dredging up the past. However, there are many doubters among us, who could ironically also be termed: “believers”. I just find it hard to accept that you took your life. That after suffering for so long, why then? Your paintings might not have been selling, but you were producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Surely, you could see that. What went wrong? Indeed, I’m even starting to wonder if you even shot yourself at all. Did somebody else pull the trigger, and you wouldn’t say? Please speak up now. Send me a letter. It’s never too late.
Your loving friend,
Letter From Van Gogh
Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Joseph Roulin from Post Office in Arles delivered it this morning. We were both overjoyed. Joseph’s been missing the old post office. You’re the only one who ever sends a letter around here and we’re all trying to work out who’ll be next.
By the way, I loved the stamps. Who would’ve thought!
Sorry I can’t help you with the details of my final days. I’ve put all those earthly matters behind me now.
However, I wanted to send you a fragment of a letter I wrote to my brother, Theo on the 21st July, 1882:
“What I want and have as my aim is infernally difficult to achieve, and yet I don’t think I am raising my sights too high. I want to make drawings that touch some people.”
That’s what it’s all about.
I’m not sure that I regret not finding fame and fortune in my life time,. However, it baffles me that I could be spat upon and ridiculed in life, yet hero-worshipped in death. Does that make any sense to you?
DVD: Loving Vincent
“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.”
Vincent Van Gogh
As a parent, I frequently find myself encouraging the kids not to give up when they make mistakes.After all, making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re innately hopeless at the task. Rather, your mistake could just be a stepping stone to greater things further down the track. There are also some tasks which just need to be done, mastered and you can’t just quit and give up. You have to persevere.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Knowing how to get back on your feet and without letting your mistakes get you down, is as important as growing taller and going through all the usual steps which growing up entails. Indeed, overcoming mistakes and starting over builds resilience… that magic ingredient, which almost guarantees you a happy life if you listen to the so-called experts.
However, does all this psychological mumbo jumbo mean you have to like making these mistakes?
I don’t think so.
Last night, former Australian Cricket Captain, Steve Smith and bowler Cameron Bancroft apologised on national television for their roles in the ball tampering fiasco which took place in South Africa. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone on TV as broken and contrite as these men, and it was painful to watch. Australians are fanatical about their cricket and it’s so easy for lounge room experts to criticize and judge. Something big went on over there. Something which caused three men in the team who from my knowledge, have always towed the line and been exemplary men. They desperately begged for forgiveness. Yes, I know they’ve been labelled cheats, but they are clearly exceptionally sorry. That’s enough for me. I also hope those men come to forgive themselves, and that perhaps some good will come out of it, although it’s hard to see a sunny side now. Indeed, you have to be concerned. Will they be okay?
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to face the world for any of our mistakes. We can quietly hide away within our anonymity at home. Most of our mistakes aren’t as monumental either. Yet, it’s also important not to be swept away by the proverbial storm in a tea cup. It’s all too easy to cry over spilled milk, a burned bamboo steamer or even eggs that won’t separate.
This morning, our 12 year old daughter had an accident in the kitchen and burned the bamboo steamer. To be honest, she did a good job of it and over 12 hours later, the stench is still hanging round. Indeed, when you start thinking of burning wood, your mind does jump towards the worst case scenario and the potential dangers of cooking.
However, I didn’t want her to think she’s a bad cook, and that that’s an inherent, indelible part of her character. All she needs is more cooking lessons and to follow the cookbook. So, I told her about my own disasters in the kitchen, including burning the base off my mother’s saucepan making rice.
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery”.
This pep talk with my daughter this morning set me in good stead for my own cooking dramas tonight. We’ll be heading down to my parents’ place for an Easter dinner and I offered to bring a pavlova. I am well known for my pavlovas, which are made from scratch and are crunchy on the outside with lush marshmallow inside. Yum! Normally, I can whip up these pavs in no time at all, but tonight I just couldn’t separate the eggs and I went through something like twelve eggs to get six. Then to top off my troubles, when I successfully separated the final egg, I drop the yolk into the pond of 5 perfect egg whites. I’m surprised I didn’t scream.
My husband always says that a sign of a good tradesman is that they know how to fix or cover-up their mistakes. So, there I was desperate to remove that offending egg yolk without even a smear of yolk being left behind (because otherwise the egg whites won’t beat up). I fished the egg yolk out with a large skimmer spoon. That went pretty well, but there was still egg yolk left behind. So, I spooned out what I could, and tried putting the whites through a tea strainer. That’s didn’t look good either and was seemingly too efficient. By now, I could only try beating them up and if it didn’t work, start over. Phew, it worked and the pavlova actually made it into the oven.
Sometimes, you can only laugh at your mistakes and no one else will be none the wiser. The pavlova looks spectacular and I am still the reigning Pavlova Queen. I can walk through the door showing off the pavlova with pride and it looks like we’ll be having pancakes beforehand to use up the eggs.
How do you overcome your mistakes? Have you written any posts sharing your cooking mistakes. I’d love to hear from you!
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
― Milan Kundera,
Today, our daughter performed a ballet solo for the very first time on stage.
As a self-confessed thundering elephant, it is hard to believe that any child of mine could possibly move with grace, poise and become a ballerina, even if she is still just a Ballerina-in-Progress and she’s dancing with L plates. That said, when our Miss dances, she’s as light as a feather, almost lighter than air.
“I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living…. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.”
― Martha Graham
It’s funny thinking of that because our home life is anything but “light” and she carries a huge emotional burden thanks to a devil of an auto-immune disease called dermatomyositis, which was triggered by her birth. So, all her life, I haven’t been well, although that said, we’ve re-calibrated “well” and have our own definition.
It is incredible to think of all that humans have achieved despite, or perhaps even because of, the great burden they carry. You hear endless stories of rugged survival, and yet too often we focus on the negative. That said, I don’t know how you go through a trauma and come out with post-traumatic growth, NOT post-traumatic stress. That intrigues me.
“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion. ”
― Martha Graham
Anyway, I find watching dance very cathartic, especially contemporary dance. In many ways, this isn’t surprising because the choreography is based on the contractions of childbirth…contract and release and this provides a great vehicle for dealing with any negative emotion as well. You scrunch it up tight like a ball of paper, and then you throw it across the room. Well, I couldn’t be entirely sure that’s exactly what choreographer, Martha Graham, had in mind but it seems cathartic to me.
When I was younger, I self-published an anthology of poetry called: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth. Fortunately, I haven’t been locked in there for the last thirty years, and escaped some time ago. Yet, watching dance also provides an outlet. Moreover, whenever I am lucky enough to dip my big toe into dancing at the adult classes, I also get to extend that further. Given my limited mobility and health issues, I appreciate the ability to move unimpeded so much more. My limbs don’t go into flights of fancy unless I’ve tripped over a crack in the footpath and crash landed.
Getting back to my daughter’s performance today, it’s quite strange when you know this beautiful, elegant dancer off-stage and she’s just a kid. At least, she was just a kid. As I looked through the lens today, it was hard to see my girl through the tutu, the makeup, the hair and it was like she’d slipped inside a second skin and was playing dress ups. Well, that’s sort of true because I also know that the ballerina, is now a part of her and has somehow melted in.
Yet, as much as her performance exuded poise and elegance, there’s always behind the scenes. We couldn’t find her music CD and tore her room apart multiple times trying to find it and we didn’t. Teachers are a wonderful thing!
Another funny moment, was when she sat beside me in the theatre. I don’t know if you’ve ever sat next to someone wearing a tutu? They might look pretty, poised and elegant, but they also take up three seats and heaven help you if you sit on the tutu! Then, you could well meet Grumpy Ballerina.
I don’t know where any of this is heading and I try not to think too far ahead. The plan at the moment is to get some audition practice, which will stand her in good stead for whatever she ends up doing. These build up both your skills and resilience and also help get your mother (or whatever taxi you depend on) organized.
Do you enjoying dancing yourself? Or, are you more part of the audience? Or, perhaps dance feels rather foreign and is not your thing. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
The featured image comes from the YIPA Facebook page.