Cultivating the Garden

Saturday Morning, waiting for the Piano Pavilion to Open

Saturday Morning, waiting for the Piano Pavilion to Open

“I also know,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.” “You are right,” said Pangloss; for when man was put into the Garden of Eden, he was put there with the idea that he should work the land; and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Let’s work, then, without disputing,” says Martin. “It is the only way to make life bearable.” 

Voltaire, Candide

Driving this morning to Fort Worth for an all-day writing workshop at the Kimbell Art Museum, these words from Voltaire whispered into my consciousness, and I felt that I had found something to help me understand our role while living out our lives on this planet. I have never understood what it is to be bored (except when I’m trapped in a meeting), as there are more things to do than I can tend. But I felt that today was a Gift, because there was this opportunity to spend a day in the museum under someone else’s direction, perusing the art collection and finding new ways to write about art. Granted it was a workshop for teachers, I nevertheless wanted to stir up my own soul with these stimulants.

Arriving about forty minutes before the museum opened, I took this sweet opportunity to sit in the shadow of the Kahn building and look across the lawn at our new Renzo Piano Pavilion, where the workshop would actually take place. I brought with me Ernest Hemingway’s autobiography, A Moveable Feast, and read again the sections about him struggling to write during his early days in Paris:

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

That was the oracle I needed to start my task. Once the workshop began, the hours flew by, as the capable instructor never ran out of ways to inspire us to write and look at the art with different spectacles. It turned out to be a splendid day of drawing and writing about the pieces in the Kimbell.

Spilling out the Day's Work on my Desk

Spilling out the Day’s Work on my Desk

There is nothing like coming home at the end of the day, opening the book bag, and spilling out onto the desk all the material you created during the day of inspiration. Our hours were divided evenly between studying select pieces of the permanent collection and finding ways to write about what we saw and thought.

"Selim and Zuleika" by Eugene Delacroix

“Selim and Zuleika” by Eugene Delacroix

One of our assignments was to write a character profile based on one of the paintings in the museum. The key word I drew from the bag was “lively”, so my task was to find a lively painting and choose a character for composing the profile. Looking at this Delacroix painting inspired by Lord Byron, I found myself recalling Samuel Butler’s quote that every work of art is a portrait of its creator. Having spent time in the Journals of Eugene Delacroix, I saw him all over this painting, and chose to compose my profile on him, writing the following:

Name: Eugene Delacroix

Where do I live: In exotic settings

What do I do: Explore the boundaries

Friends would describe me as: Restless and Inquisitive

My hobbies are: Traveling, painting, reading Romantic literature, dreaming and journaling

My favorite place to hang out: Tangier

My secret is: I am never bored, and I am never certain.

What am I going to do next? Cleanse the eye, by looking for something new.

How did I get into this work? I followed my curiosity, refusing to obey conventions.

Our next project was to “mash up” a story by combining our work with that of another workshop participant, seeking a way to bring the two characters together in a plot.

Portrait of Mary Anne Bloxam (later Mrs. Frederick H. Hemming)

Portrait of Mary Anne Bloxam (later Mrs. Frederick H. Hemming)

My instructor had skillfully created a character profile of this lady and her conservative, conventional, public lifestyle (the key word for her profile was “proper”). The two of us talked of ways to get Delacroix and the future Mrs. Hemming into a story, and then we wrote our pieces. Hers was better than mine, but I’ll share mine:

In the midst of the Parisian Salon, the soon-to-be Mrs. Hemming could not stop looking at the strikingly handsome and rugged gentleman standing in the back of the parlor as Brahms was being played. Eugene Delacroix immediately perceived her furtive glances. As the evening played out, neither approached the other, but neither could stop looking or remembering.

Two months later, in the heart of the Grand Tour of Venice, the pair’s eyes met with a shock of recognition, and they strode toward one another. As the conversation and romantic drama unfolded into the evening, the unraveling dawned unmistakable. He could not forsake his traveling adventures, and she could not break her conventional engagement and matrimony. But neither would be able to forget the other.

After the fun of writing our fiction stories, our next assignment proved more difficult, and we only had ten minutes, as the session was nearly over. We were handed a page from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and our assignment was to lift words from the text to compose a poem inspired by one of the paintings in the collection. I thought this was impossible, but standing in front of a Cezanne painting, I began underlining particular words that caught my eye from the Austen text, and this is what I composed:

Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir

Maison Maria with a View of Château Noir

A Building that Does Not Belong

The high road

          Barely discernible,

The garden sloping

          Involuntarily to the road.

The parsonage

          Stopped at civility,

Displaying the recollection

          Of furniture.

Once I got back home, I poured out my day’s work, grateful for the memories and stimulation. As the light began to wane, I moved into my studio and pushed my waiting watercolor a little further down the road:

The light is now gone, the evening has arrived, and I am in the best mood possible to read, reflect, write and enjoy the memories of this day. I am overflowing with gratitude that a local art museum offered such a rewarding study.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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