Have you ever read a promising new author who tells how literature saved his or her young, confused life through the redemptive value of J.D. Salinger or Shakespeare? Or maybe this happened to you?
For me it was Euripides. I was haunted by Medea; and, later, by the heroes of John Steinbeck. The more tortured the moral predicament, the deeper I dove in.
“Medea,” Rebecca Parker, www.deviantart.com
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages would-be artists to expose ourselves to all manner of human creative expression. Poet Kathleen Norris wrote in The Cloister Walk that literature was her first form of religion. Art feeds art—whether one’s art is a perfect cake or an original piece of choreography.
I live across the street from a university with a good reputation in the arts. There are dozens of arts opportunities every year that I can absorb—many of them free or nearly so.
For instance, last summer my husband and I took our daughter to an exhibit of Rembrandt’s “Beggar Etchings.” When have we ever had Rembrandts—or many other things this old—in our little town? These etchings are almost painfully realistic; not even sympathetic necessarily. It was exciting just to be in the room with something the artist worked on.
“Beggar Seated Warming His Hands at a Chafing Dish,” Rembrandt van Rijn
Then there was the snowy night I went to a faculty recital by soprano Anne Basinski, who was being accompanied by my friend Lee Heuermann. I went to support Lee, and didn’t really want to be there because I was in the throes of an icky cold. But when Anne and Lee sang Lakme’s Flower Duet, I shut my eyes and I was transported (you can click on the link and listen).
This week I’m going to see a new exhibit of paintings by Montana artist Fra Dana, an American Impressionist. Dana was a cattleman’s wife torn between her ranch duties and love of art. In 1897, the year after her marriage, she began to study at the Chicago Art Institute with William Merritt Chase. Chase’s other students included Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Stella (and his “Girl in a Blue Kimono” is coincidentally up there on my page). A prenuptial agreement allowed Fra (pronounced “Fray”) Dana to study in New York and Paris with some of the most important American Impressionist artists. Here’s one of her paintings:
…and here’s a portrait of Dana by William Merritt Chase—also part of the exhibit on campus:
She doesn’t look very happy, and I don’t think she was. After trying for several years to mix her art and traveling with the life of a ranch woman, Dana gave up her painting dreams. Near the end of her life she wrote that she could fight the world and win, but could not fight both the world and her husband and win.
I’ve enjoyed many musical and dance events in this town, including Emmylou Harris, Elton John, and the Ailey II Dance Company (below).
When the Rolling Stones played Missoula a couple years ago, though, my dislike of crowds won out. I stayed home, and listened to the thumping of the concert from our house.
The Stones don’t exactly qualify as belonging to “the arts” in my mind, though “Sympathy for the Devil” has some of my favorite lyrics, and “Angie” will always break my heart. And even Sir Reginald—a favorite since grade school—isn’t really “fine art.”
But while we’re on the subject of what could be called popular art, let’s not forget the summer day my daughter came home and said casually, “Oh did you know the prince of Russia is in town talking about Shrinky Dinks?”
It took a long time to believe her, but she was right: it was Prince Andrew Romanov (yes, that Romanov) at the Missoula Art Museum showing his collection of Shrinky-draw-on-plastic-and-bake-it-Dinks. On these shrunken pieces of plastic he’s depicted his colorful and singular life. Apparently the old gentleman has a great sense of humor.
Who but the grand-nephew of the last tsar could achieve international fame as an artist in this medium? But look at this example:
“Balmoral Castle,” Prince Andrew Romanov
I love it! Who’s “A” and “K” in here? Is it Andrew and the King?
And here’s the 80-something prince himself, photographed here in Missoula:
What a fantastic face, to say nothing of his neckerchief and mustache. I wish we’d met him that day. By the time we heard about it (and believed it), the event was over. Andrew has a book about his life called The Boy Who Would Be Tsar. It’s illustrated with his…um…images.
We’re not in New York or Paris here, or even Boise, Idaho. But: I love being able to skip across the street after dinner and take in something beautiful or fascinating that elevates me above the mundane. And there is beauty, and fascination, and passionate creation by highly talented people. How I appreciate what they give us.
So for now, I’m looking forward to more of the same in my town. Next month the university is presenting “Medea,” and I’m going to be first in line. Because we’re in a recession and I need the arts more than ever, and because it’s Euripides, who’s been with me for a long time now.