Note: See the post prior for back story. ;0)
A few years after I’d visited the MET, I’d heard that the National Museum of Art in Washington D.C. had Norman Rockwell’s THE FOUR FREEDOMS on display. On loan from another institution, I made the trip downtown only to discover that I’d missed the exhibit by one day.
“The paintings aren’t here anymore?” I asked, crestfallen.
“No, they’ve been sent back to the Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts.”
At the time I hadn’t traveled much, and after my fateful encounter with the Monet I wondered if I should even be allowed around priceless pieces of art again. But my curiosity got the better of me, and I added “See a Rockwell up close” to my resolutions page the following year.
Early in January 2005 I found myself on the internet researching my vacation to Stockbridge, MA. While planning the trip and reserving a small room at a privately owned inn, I baulked at the fact that I’d never visited New England before. It wasn’t like the thirteen colonies were that far away, all of them slightly north of MD, and I’d never ventured out to see them before.
The fact struck me as sad. I know a writer’s work is solitary, but seriously. I needed to get out more.
And Stockbridge was a lovely place; a small town with brick colonial houses that anchored the rolling expanses of grass. Clotheslines dripping with freshly laundered cotton, it was so picturesque. I can still taste the fresh bread from the main street bakery.
And I got to see a real Norman Rockwell. God, I loved that trip.
I walked through the Norman Rockwell Museum in awe of his style, the perfect lines of paint so different. Monet painted his landscapes in the moment before the light of day faded. Rockwell used precise, thin strokes. His paintings looked like antique photos, snapshots of the past. I was awed by the flawlessness of his work, its perfection.
Walking slowly, I spent hours that day just analyzing his craft. Thinking that an artist, whether they’re a painter or a writer or a hat maker, all develop a style based first on how they were taught, and then by what experimentation and experience has taught them.
I perused the paintings losing myself in the art. And I felt proud.
I’d checked off my resolution – I’d seen a Rockwell up close. I’d seen almost all of them!
I witnessed how amusing GOSSIP is in person, how GIRL AT A MIRROR reminds me of every little girl who dreams of being a mature woman someday. How TRAFFIC CONDITIONS pokes fun at the little unexpected incidents in life.
I spent forty-five minutes looking at the sunny yellow of the new bride’s dress in THE MARRIAGE LICENSE. The reserved expression of approval on the old registrar’s face stealing my heart. I think that one will always be my favorite.
Each of the paintings hung on brightly lit wall space inside of wide rooms, the lines on the hardwood floors marking where you were to stand.
Thinking back to the Monet, I left my camera in its bag.
And while I remained mindful the entire time, something about THE TRUMPTEER did me in. I couldn’t help but see it closer, leaning in my eyes focused on the amazing merging of color on the fridge of the chair. All crimson and carmine and cardinal…
A minute passed before I acknowledged the footsteps coming towards me. Entranced, I didn’t back away as the lady from security inclined next to me, ear-to-ear, mirroring my stance.
Holding my breath, I waited for her tell me that I was standing too close, that I shouldn’t be breathing near an American work of art. That I was infringing on the rules.
When she spoke her voice was gentle, soft R’s saying, “Notice his use of red…”
I grinned like a little kid—she was cool.
The guide, Mary, told me all about the painting and explained Rockwell’s painting style. He’d start with a charcoal drawing—the framework of all his paintings—and would maneuver the paint in layers over several weeks and sometimes months. He punctuated with red, his signature color, his thumbprint.
After touring the room I turned to her. “Will you show me the FREEDOMS?” I asked.
Without hesitation she held open her arm and escorted me to the largest room in the museum.
I went to bed that night with art drifting through my dreams.
Did the greats ever mess up when they were learning? I wondered.
Did Monet ever have a moment when he thought, “No, that is just isn’t right—” and started over?
What about Rockwell? How much trial and error did he go through before he became so flawless on canvas?
Similar to the editing process, there is no doubt that writing is an art. Pick up any book and get a glimpse of an author’s style.
What does this author “paint” with? Subtext? Metaphor? Narrative voice?
What structure choices were made to tell this story in the best way? How did they learn that?
Much is gleaned from books but more is learned from experience. If you’re going to be good at writing, it takes practice. You will have those drafts that really suck and you have face the reasons why. You learn the rules to know where they bend, and break them only if the fissure serves a strong purpose.
Great artists have had years of trial and error—plenty of first drafts and spilled paint. In writing it’s dropping the words down in their raw form and then molding the coarse description into a clear story.
It’s love of the process, not the final product that’s important.
That is what I love about storytelling. Writing holds a memory just as a painting does.
Do you remember a moment from a book you read long ago? Is it just as fresh in your mind as when you first read it?
A bridge over water lilies, a couple signing their marriage license—what is your moment?
Will you capture it?