The Pleasure and Purpose of Art at Home

In my friend’s manicured back garden, the tiles of the circular patio are evenly spaced. The rich green grass is neatly edged and a cushioned mat under bare foot. Spilling over the wrought iron seating and table is a glorious Japanese Maple in radiant red. Charming bright coloured bird houses hang from its branches and have already been occupied inearly spring.

In the border along the wooden fence, roses rise up over the last leaves of tulips and the dogwood is in full bloom with its unmistakable four square creamy white petalled flowers. Draping branches of variegated leaves frame the lovely flowers.

But it is the brilliant orange poppies that draw me over and I gingerly step onto the soft earth to get closer to reach out and draw the mammoth blossom closer. The long slender blue-green stock feathered in fine green hairs ends in a verdant pod opened to hold a cup of tissue fine petals the size of two palms with splayed fingers. Deep within, the purple-black pleated stamen, a flower within a flower is surrounded by dozens of sepals dusted with deep purple pollen that cascades down and is captured in the bright orange bowl.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Oriental Poppies 1928

Georgia O’Keeffe, Oriental Poppies 1928

I am drawn in, as fascinated as a bee or hummingbird. The detail; the textures, the colours, the perfection, the patterns both please me and put me at ease. I am at ease as I witness the wonder of nature – the folly of mismatched colours (would you wear them together?) in symmetry and harmony.

In my revery I am reminded of a watercolour class many many, okay more many years ago in the perennial garden of Dr. Curtain. She was the benefactor of the Carmichael Art Group in Thistletown, Ontario – a suburb of Toronto. At seventeen, I was allowed to take the last week of school off (when all the field sport events were being played out) and attend a week long art class.

In that garden seated with a handful of students of all ages, I faced my blank paper. Paper wetted, stretched and taped, I leaned over my board and stared at the cluster of Papaver orientale – bright orange Oriental poppies with deep purple centres. They waved languidly in the late June afternoon. I stared some more. The gardens were a riot of colour and texture, but it was the harmony of crushed tissue orange balancing the purple black orb as it bounced heavily in the breeze that fascinated me.

I don’t think I ever painted the poppies. I tried day after day. I became frustrated with the inability to duplicate them on paper with the realism of a camera. I wasn’t talented in drawing and my attempts were probably lively blotches – impatient imprint of purple into a still wet orange centre bleeding all over the place.

Why is this important to share? Because in my naivete I was missing the whole fascination that the flower offered. The flower was not asking to be replicated – we can do that with seeds or a camera. The flower was tantalizing me with its mystery. A mystery for my heart and eye alone. How did I feel about the textures of stem and petal? How was I moved by the contrast of colour? Where was my head on a summer afternoon while the rest of school was in grey tiled halls? What could I say about my experience in my painting of a poppy?

How could I take the notes of colour, texture, pattern and line to create a song that might be hummed by others? As it happened I couldn’t. My creativity is in word not paint. However, as someone said to me today, all the creative arts are interchangeable; they come from the same place. They just need to be tweaked here and there – from pallet to dance floor.

And where is this place they all rise from? The heart. The soul. The unconscious. The true artist speaks, sings, paints, writes, dances or acts from the heart. When we act from the heart we are the instrument of pure creation. Our mind, ego, judgement slides away as our hand grasps a brush or our mouths open in song. We articulate the poppy in rhyme or watercolour by suspending our self definition long enough to engage with the nature of the poppy – tissue fine petals, heavy purple stamen dancing in the summer breeze.

The artist captures that interplay and shares an experience both ephemeral and concrete, emotional and rational. In a painting, as viewer, we stand before a canvas and are transported beyond mind, ego and judgement and enter into the experience of the artist and subject. If the artist has been true to his/her heart then we will feel the authenticity of the experience. The painting may be abstract or realistic, the truth of the communication and shared experience will float right over and by our filters and judgement sentries to lodge right in our soul. We will be moved – or not.

Most of us don’t dedicate our lives to exploring the scintillation of shadow on a wall, the sparkle of sunlight on water, the purpling of distant mountains. We don’t have time. We are up at seven, work out, feed the kids, dash to the office, plug into the machine, check our emails and ride through to day’s end. We have barely enough attention to smell the coffee let alone the roses – wherever they’re hiding out. But we all long for meaning, depth, richness, beauty, love.

An original work of art by an artist who blends skill and intuition will not only be a source of constant delight, but a therapeutic interlude right within your own four walls. It will become as familiar and soothing as a hug or as challenging and inspiring as an anthem. When you have the opportunity to relate to a painting on an emotional or visceral level and then have the privilege to own it and make it part of your living environment, you will enjoy a dimension to life not experienced in any other way.

Fashions and trends change but the face of one you love is ever welcome and comforting. A painting that you have befriended and welcomed into your home is an investment in your own happiness and well being. Your painting may depict a lovely memory – like the view of the distant morning-still Muskoka lake through the foreground veil of pine bow and cones that recently transported me back to age five.

Your painting may be an huge canvas of rounded orbs in varying shades of orange as radiant as sunlight and as sweet as the promise of juice in your mouth. Your painting might be vibrant turquoise backdrop with a broken stock of vermillion geraniums propped in a blue can that lifts your heart. Your painting might be of a weathered skiff pulled onto a rocky shore that reminds you of simple adventure.

Your painting might be the tearing apart of wrapped paper and curling twine that reveals a book, or tulip or Chinese bowl. Your painting – when it chooses you – will whisper, sing or shout, but it will speak in a language you understand.

The caveat is this:  Art is rarely silent.  If you choose to live with an original work of art by an artist who has attained a level of experience and training and creative articulation, you will not only derive pleasure but be reminded in a most gentle and subtle way that life is so much more than we think it is. A great work of art will call out to you, like those poppies did when I was young, to find your own unique expression of life. Like me, you may not be a painter, but you are authentically you. Surrounding yourself with art will call you to live from the heart and express your soul’s purpose – as a CEO or a gardener.

Find a piece of art that ‘turns you on’ and make sure you take it home with you. It is the everyday pleasures of simple creation that will ever sustain us in this turbulent world!