I had lofty aspirations for this post. It was going to be about going to the Minneapolis Art Institute, especially the time in high school when I went to complete an assignment for an art class: pick a piece of artwork and draw it.
I wanted to tell you about the hush of the place, and the coolness, and the shiny floors that echoed with my footsteps. How I’ve been there many times in crowds, but in my memories I am usually there alone, or almost alone.
I wanted to tell you about copying the work of someone greater than you—what it is like to try to recreate their lines, and how you internalize something of theirs as you work. How when you hold your drawing up next to the original you can see your inexperience—the stiffness and haltingness of it—but that there is also something there you recognize, and that is a feeling that surprises.
But when I went looking for that drawing in my old high school art portfolio, I also came across this:
And my lofty aspirations sort of fell apart.
I don’t know when exactly I made this picture, or why. I know that the quote is originally from an Ingmar Bergman movie I’ve never seen (“Autumn Sonata,” from what I can tell.) I know also that it is quoted in a movie I did see in 12th grade English, “My Dinner with Andre.” I don’t know if this picture is part of a project for that class or something I did on my own. I am certain, though, that if I spent that much time dealing with those words they meant something to me.
Have those words been haunting me since then? Not in any conscious way. Yet there they are, tugging at my heart, reminding me of a 17 year-old who felt like she could live well in one place but not the other. Or was she afraid—afraid that she would not be able to find a way to live in her life, afraid of being cut off from the real things, afraid of her lack of skill?
Was it shock I felt, when I saw the consistency—that this is something I find myself dealing with still? That my continual desire to have art inform life and life inform art goes back farther than I realized? Always, I find myself looking for synthesis. And does it go back to this? Or farther?
I know that I have learned this:
When you are trying to draw a face, and you know that something is not right but you can’t tell what, you can turn your drawing upside down. Suddenly the things you couldn’t see because you were looking at a face become clear: one eye is lying lower than the other, or the nose is off-kilter, or the mouth is stuck in the middle of the chin.
When you are learning a piece of music and do not know what needs work, you can record yourself playing and listen to it. Suddenly there they are: the out-of-tune notes, the places where you rush or drag, the dynamics you thought were so dramatic but actually hardly come across at all.
When you are unsure if a piece of writing is finished, you can set it aside (for as long as you can stand—days? weeks? months?) until you are able to read it with something of a stranger’s eyes. And you start to see the awkward words, the passages that can be cut, the ideas that need to be tightened.
And that thing in your life that you don’t know what to do with? That seems harder. But you try what you can, and your efforts look something like what you might do with your art.
You can look at it from a different angle. What if it was not your thing but that of someone you love? What if the tables were turned? What if one thing was different—you were not afraid, or you knew things would work out?
You can share it with somebody else, or pray your heart out, or both, and listen very carefully to how it plays back to you.
You can sleep on it. Or simply wait.
You can decide, finally, that your life is a work of art. That you were intentional—every bit of your personality and your story. That where you are and who you are is no mistake, but part of a story line, and no, in this case you don’t get to skip to the last page to see if you get the ending you so desperately want. But you do get to wade through it.
You could, even, throw all of yourself in.
Because it strikes me suddenly that holding yourself back from your life is just as pointless as holding yourself back from your art. It’s all there, waiting to touch and be touched, to feel and be felt, to see and be seen. To go deep. And to matter, deeply.
Don’t you want to do that? Holding nothing back? Making of it the most beautiful thing you are able? Maybe you know how to live in your life, after all.
Subscribe to Dreamer by Email