Monday, April 21, 2008

All in the Eye of the Beholder

The artist and the gardener have a lot in common, but the two that come to mind are faith and vision. I spent some time in my favorite local gallery today looking at an exhibit called Seeing Dragons in the Clouds. It is a wonderful dose of whimsy and a much needed reinforcer of my finishing school mentality. Between the vision of the artist, which is the first gift, and the achievement of the final work of art is great faith. Faith first that it can be done at all and secondly that the artist can do it. The "it" being the successful resolution of that first vision.

My friend, the gallery manager, is also in the creative writing class. We share our similar concerns about instilling ourselves with the resolve that these artists demonstrate in their works and their working. The exhibit includes notebooks and web pages that describe how the work came about and shows other works by the same artist.

"Wall of Lanterns" catches my eye first. It is a nylon mesh net woven in broad squares like a monochrome checkerboard. Suspended in some of those squares are the bare bones of the Physalis calyxes suspended like bells. When held out from the wall, the hollow cases of the Chinese lantern plant (one of Physalis's common names) cast a soft shadow on the wall that adds another dimension to the piece.

The artist, Kim Fok, found inspiration in her compost pile. I am dead chuffed to find earth worms and nicely rotted manure in my compost pile. I like looking at it and working with it, but I must confess for my all my affection for it, I had never looked there for inspiration. Thanks to the inspiration provided by Kim Fok, I picked up a dead branch of Chinese lantern plant that I found quietly composting itself in a bed in the walled garden and I saw how really beautiful it is. Instead of the compost pile, I'll bring it in and look at it with a new perspective for a few days at least.

Faith. Once having had the vision, the artist set to work and spent many hours, preparing the little lantern shells, researching the right materials for her weaving, and then putting it all together.

As a writer, I need to work on that faith-full part. I have been reading Bird by Bird, a guide to growing that faith-fullness to become a writer. Although I find the rhetoric of the book too flamboyant, the essential message is the same: take your inspiration and work with it to achieve your vision. The author offers her own experiences and insights as a guide. Mostly, it comes down to just doing it faithfully.

Now, how is an artist then, like a gardener? Finding inspiration in a compost pile is coincidental with gardening. The real similarities seem to me to be vision and faith. The walled garden and all the other beds around the house have been conversing with me over the years. In some places now I have a clear vision of how I would like them to look. That vision will take years to accomplish. I might not ever see it in my tenure here, but it is compelling enough to take me into the late afternoon sun and wrestle with resurgent Bishop's weed and bad tempered nettles. Even the young nettles pack a wallop, and the dock is not yet mature enough to have the slime at its base that is the balm for nettle stings.

With stinging hands, I open the packets of Purple coneflower. Beneath the bold cardboard images of Purple coneflower is a plastic bag of peat moss in which the trerasures are held waiting to be planted. I rummage through the peat to find the contents as different from the picture as all the toys I collected box tops for or the prizes in the bottom of the Cracker Jack boxes. Faith. I still believe that treasures exist in Cracker Jack boxes and that these little roots will, in time, grow into the bushy prairie plants with purple florets swept back from a cone like flower that will dance in the breezes among the purple poppies and baby's breath and lupins.

When I come back with watering can and 2-litre soda bottle full of water, I take a look at the other recent additions--a Ceanothus that may in time be taller than I am nestled still looking quite perky after his planting last week in the bare spot reclaimed from nettles last year. I water him in as another act of faith. In the next bed I look in on the three cat mints planted where the Bishop's weed ran rampant last year. It is still perky though not yet settled in to this spot. Perhaps the predation of the Bishop's weed around the edges causes it some anxiety. I pull the green shoots of Bishops weed that are poking out from under the cardboard intended to starve it out last year. The cardbaord has degraded nicely but branches of the trees above have not yet leafed out enough to keep the sun from tickling the wily toes of that verdant invader. Nonetheless, I have faith that the cat mint will grow into the same vibrant lavender-like plant that makes a welcome sight in my neighbour's yard.


At 10:41 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

I heaved a big sigh at the completion of this. Yes. Faith is at the core of every project. Mine has been wavering lately, so this was inspirational.


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