Tag Archives: art

The Curious Case of Life Imitating Art

The muse must have been looking over my shoulder yesterday because, unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a case of life imitating art. Or was art imitating life?

I’d spent most of the day walking my dog, talking with friends online, and reading Anna Quindlen’s novel, “Still Life with Breadcrumbs,” the story of a photographer whose career is in decline.

In late afternoon, I decided to take my car out for a spin, since the last time I’d started it up, it had been sluggish. I feared the battery was about to reach its moment of planned obsolescence. (That would be about par for 2020.) But I hoped that if I drove around for an hour or so, maybe I could revive it.

On a whim, I grabbed my camera before heading out (something I haven’t done in a while, since it’s been too hot during the day for photography). “You never know,” I thought, imagining for just a second a chance encounter with a dust devil, or maybe a space alien. The car sputtered to a reluctant start. Before it could die on me, I put it in gear and headed north.

My destination was Oracle, about half an hour up the road – an unincorporated town whose most famous resident to date has been Buffalo Bill Cody. En route, it occurred to me to plug in an audiobook that was in my phone.

Unfortunately, I’m not too good with modern audio systems in cars (or in phones, for that matter). In fact, I was surprised I’d managed to get the book copied into my phone at all. So as not to cause an accident, I turned off the main highway, Oracle Road, and onto Biosphere Road (which, inconsequentially, leads to Biosphere 2) in order to park, thumb through my owner’s manual, and figure out how to tell my car to read a book to me.

After a few hundred feet, I came to a turnaround. It looked like an ideal place for rattlesnakes and tarantulas to hang out, but I wasn’t planning to get out of the car and join their party, even if they were wearing masks. Heavy, dark storm clouds were gathering in the distance, and a few were above my head. I was anxious to queue up my book and get back on the road.

The clouds had other ideas. They suddenly moved out of the sun’s way, and a shaft of light landed on something smooth, tall, and bright along the trail: a scarred and dusty shrine in the middle of the desert.

It seemed to be a case of life imitating art. You see (spoiler alert), on page 37 in Still Life With Breadcrumbs, that book I’d been reading earlier that day, the protagonist goes for a hike in the woods and comes upon a shrine – a white wooden cross with a glittering child’s volleyball trophy lying on the ground next to it. She takes some photos.

I felt like life was trying to tell me something, so I shut off the engine, grabbed my camera, and got out of the car. Scoping out the ground for snakes or spiders, I cautiously approached the little memorial and took a few photos. As soon as I’d finished and gotten back in my car, I realized I might have made a mistake.

It was 107 degrees out, and there I was in the middle of the Arizona desert with a car whose battery was on its last legs. I wondered how long it would be before AAA could find me. I turned the key in the ignition. The engine choked for a few seconds, and then, reluctantly, it caught.

I sighed, turned the car around, and glanced back at the shrine, but by then the sun had ducked behind the clouds again; the scene was now in shadow. I’d gotten there just at the right moment.

All I could think of on the drive home was the phrase, “life imitates art.” So today I looked that up and learned a thing or two. The idea has been around since at least the time of Plato, who believed art was a poor imitation of life, and for that reason could be dangerous. Aristotle, on the other hand, welcomed art’s imitation of life. And Oscar Wilde’s take was that life imitates art more often than art imitates life. Even Dostoevsky got into the debate, describing it as more of a codependent relationship, where art imitates life, which then imitates art, causing life to owe its very existence to art.

As for me, I was totally flabbergasted by the way my life (finding the shrine) seemed to be imitating art (the book I’m reading). Or maybe art (the book) was imitating life (its pathos) which in turn was imitating art (the shrine). It’s something I thought was worth pondering, especially when I realized one more thread:

In “Still Life With Breadcrumbs,” the protagonist doesn’t notice a certain, possibly significant, detail on the cross until she gets home and enlarges the photo. That same thing happened to me – I didn’t notice the coins at the base of the statue until I got home. Can you spot them?

Shrine 5

I’ve searched online for other photos of this shrine but couldn’t find any, so I don’t know who it’s for. I wish I did. In any case, I think I’ll return soon and add some coins to their collection.

 

 

Yellow

YELLOW

In spring

yellow makes me feel like laughing

the tickle of a lemon breeze

ruffles my hair and

puckers my lips

In summer

it pours from the sun

like hot flat sheets of maple syrup

drenching my body

in liquid sugar

In autumn

yellow turns to orange

and licks my face like a ginger cat

purring

until I try to catch it

In winter

it’s a trickle of iced tea

dropping in to say

stick around

I’ll be back soon.

Acacia Flower

The Writer’s Brush

Have you ever been immersed in a book and suddenly been struck by the knowledge that the writing isn’t just good, it’s great?

Of course you have. But what exactly is it about the writing that gets to you? What hits you over the head and makes you say, “Wow”? Is it what the writer has to say, or how they say it?

To my mind, great writing requires both. It not only has to impart something worth saying, but it has to say it in a particularly artful way. I came across an example of this today while reading “One-Eyed Cat,” by Paula Fox.

This book is an example of how characters, setting, mood, plot, and theme all come together delicately yet quite powerfully. The author has something to say to young adult readers, and she says it with finesse. I couldn’t help but think “Wow” to myself several times while reading. Here’s an example of what I mean:

 “The stillness was deep as though the earth itself had drawn in its breath. The only thing moving was a wasp near the roof of the outhouse. Ned watched it as its circles grew smaller and smaller until, all at once, it disappeared. Probably its nest was there just under the roof. Maybe there were snakes in back of the outhouse where the tangled grass grew thick. He suddenly recalled how Janet had flung her whole self against Billy, how the snake had flown out of his hands. A thought was buzzing and circling inside his head, a thought that stung like a wasp could sting.”

With those few sentences, the author creates a silence, then fills it with small terrors. She has not only created a mood, she’s put us right inside of Ned’s head and made us feel the sting of the painful thought that Ned can’t just swat away. That sting is the tangible representation of the book’s central theme.

After that paragraph, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I was in Ned’s head and I wanted to know how things would turn out. The theme was what hooked me, and the writing style made me a very willing catch.

cat-1460882_1280

And here’s another analogy: great writing is like great painting. The subject is important, but so is the execution. A splash of blue color on canvas is just that, unless it happens to be as majestically painted as Starry Night. A face could be quite boring unless it’s captured the mystery of the Mona Lisa or the terror of The Scream.

Great writing requires a solid subject and an artistic brush.

What examples of great writing have you read lately?

Life Imitates Art Garfunkel

It’s Tuesday, 11:30 p.m., Day 28 of the November Nano Poblano blog challenge, and I have to get to sleep soon.

I’m flying out in the morning, early. My alarm is set for Wednesday morning, 3:00 a.m.

I’m reminded of two songs:

“But the dawn is breaking, it’s early morn, the taxi’s waiting, he’s blowing his horn” — John Denver, Leaving On A Jet Plane

“The morning is just a few hours away” — Simon and Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

Aristotle thought that art imitates life, and Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art … but it seems that my life imitates Art Garfunkel.

Gee, I hope so. I’d love to sing like that some day.

In Carnegie Hall.

While standing next to Paul Simon.

But I’d stay friends with him until we were old.

Old friends.

Now, if I were flying to Denver, that would be like life imitating Art Garfunkel imitating John Denver. I’d like to see that.

Country Roads, bring me home across the 59th Street Bridge Over Troubled Water, to Scarborough Fair.

Coloring Club

Brick red. Maize. Pine green. Cornflower. Raw sienna. Sepia. Gold. Silver. Copper.

What am I talking about? The Crayola 64 crayon box, of course. To my mind, the set of 64 was the greatest collection of them all.

I’ll bet you can remember that good crayon smell. Do you remember how you always had to peel the paper on your favorite colors, and how heartbreaking it was when one of them broke? And how you never used white?

A brief history: The first crayon was invented in 1902. First there were 8, followed by 16, 24, and 48. And then there was the set of 64, in 1958, and it was so unbelievably perfect that it was unchanged until 1990. (Little known fact: the Crayola crayon with the gross and ridiculous name “flesh” was renamed “peach” in 1962.)

The reason I’m bringing this up is that I just got home from a meeting of the Tucson Coloring Club. It was like being a kid on my first day of kindergarten. I didn’t know anybody. I carried my supplies in a bag and set them down on an empty chair. I went to the lunch line, got my lunch, and ate it with someone I didn’t know. Then I joined the rest of my new friends at another table and began to color and talk. It was probably the most relaxed I’ve felt all week. I want to be five years old again.

The Tucson Coloring Club is just one of many local Meetup groups. I recently signed up for a few that sounded interesting, including a hiking group that’s probably about my speed (out-of-shape to intermediate) and another group that goes to dinners and plays together. I decided not to sign up for the Tucson Python Club or the Tucson Geek It Up. The coloring club seemed like a nice, easy way to get my feet wet. Besides, I already had one of those trendy adult coloring books lying around the house.

We met at one of my favorite cafés, Bentley’s, which is about 20 miles from home. I ordered coffee, quiche, and a salad because I was starving when I got there, and decided to eat at the counter next to the table, in case I spilled something. (I could just picture myself knocking over my coffee cup or splashing blue cheese dressing on somebody’s art project.) Unfortunately, that meant sitting with my back to the group for a while, but then someone else’s lunch arrived and she joined me. I felt like I fit in.

After eating, I rejoined the group at the big table and began to color. There were the usual questions about where I live and work, etc., but there was also ample time to just listen to others and to color quietly. Some people never talked at all, and that was okay, too. It was just such a relaxed and accepting group.

There was a 20-something ex-teacher who colored a complicated design in an art nouveau book. She told us that every time she finishes a page, she writes a letter on the back of it and sends it to her grandmother. She talked about her grandmother, who lives far away, doesn’t like to talk on the phone, and may be depressed. Their only way of communicating is through those pretty colored pages.

Then there was a 60-something man who used to work in the computer field. I think he’s retired now. His coloring project was a geometric design with big open spaces. He said he likes the big spaces because he doesn’t have to plan too much about which colors to choose. He was friendly, asked lots of questions, and (refreshingly) didn’t talk about himself very much.

And there was an occupational therapist who teaches others how to work with their hands, but who’s been diagnosed with MS and is losing her ability to work with her own hands. She discovered that she can hold on to gel pens pretty well (and I suspect it’s good therapy, too). She’s been trying to figure out ways to get out of the house now that she needs to use a motorized chair. She’s able to fold it up and put it into the trunk of her car, but when she gets places she needs help getting it out and unfolded. She’s going places anyway, and figuring it out as she goes along. “I don’t have any other choice,” she added with a smile. We discovered that, by sheer coincidence, she lives right around the corner from me. Looks like I may be carpooling with her if I stay in the group. She seems nice and, who knows, I may have found a new friend in my neighborhood.

Some of us talked about our favorite colors, how we choose colors, and whether we press lightly or hard when we color. One person opened up about why she moved away and then came back, touching on some family issues. Another talked about a friend whose daughter has been cutting herself. A man talked about how he was in counseling and has used art in therapy. For a bunch of strangers who spent less than two hours together, the topics we covered were pretty amazing.

It was just so nice to sit there and think about colors today. It literally brightened up my day.

*****

My new photo book about the Pacific Northwest, “Standing in the Surf,” is available in e-book and paperback formats here: