It was a few years ago now that I read a fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal about a woman named Vivian Maier. Maier was never married, never had children, had virtually no family relationships, and was a nanny by trade. She would have quietly faded into obscurity were it not for one young man named John Maloof who purchased a tub full of photo negatives at an auction.
Maloof’s journey of uncovering the story of the nanny photographer Vivian Maier is told in his documentary film Finding Vivian Maier. The mystery of this woman, her life, and Maloof’s discovery is compelling, but even without their fascinating story the photographs she compulsively took stand as amazing artwork in and of themselves. Maier took thousands and thousands of photographs in her solitary lifetime. Only a fraction of them were ever developed.
To see her photographs, visit http://www.VivianMaier.com
I was overjoyed when I found out that an exhibition of Maier’s photographs was on display at the Des Moines Art Center (always free admission!) and even more excited to hear that the Art Center would be showing the documentary in conjunction with the exhibition. It sounded like the perfect Artist’s Date.
So it was that Wendy and I drove to Des Moines yesterday to pick up Taylor at her new apartment (adorable). We headed to Louie’s Wine Dive for a scrumptious brunch complete with Mimosas and Beignets. We then headed to the Art Center to take in Maier’s photographs and watch the film together. Lovely afternoon.
Finding Vivian Maier is on Netflix. The exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center runs through January 22.
I’m grateful to come from a family of artists and craftsmen. While most people think of art as confined to drawing, painting and sculpture, there is no doubt that the river of creation has an endless number of tributaries, and my family members have explored a lot of them. Despite the fact that we have a wide range of personalities and bents, everyone has found their own artistic and creative outlets. In my house I have a watercolor done by my mother. I have a pastel done by my brother Terry. I have a work of calligraphy and a custom bass guitar made by my brother Tim. There is photography by our daughter Madison along with paintings and drawings by our daughter Taylor.
The newest piece to the expanding family collection arrived a few weeks ago. The story of this piece begins in childhood. In the church we attended while growing up there was a small prayer room and in the prayer room there was a kneeling bench. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression because I certainly didn’t frequent the place. I did, however, use the room once or twice and it must have made an impression on me because I’ve never forgotten it. For many years now, I’ve quietly desired to have a prayer bench of my own. As I spend time in conversation with God each morning and praying the hours throughout my day, I’ve thought that I would like to have a prayer bench at which to kneel.
Earlier this summer the desire rose up once again and I began looking on-line for what one of these would cost. As I looked through some of the pictures and advertisements it struck me that my craftsman father could make one that would be every bit as nice as the ones I was looking at on-line and probably nicer. I shot off an e-mail asking if he’d like to do a little project for me. He quickly replied that he would love to do so. In no time I had learned that he, unsatisfied with finding any pre-made plans, had begun to design his own from scratch and he soon had me kneeling on phone books and taking measurements.
A few weeks ago he presented me with the kneeling bench complete with a reading shelf for my Bible and copy of the Divine Hours. Unbeknownst to me, Dad even had Wendy doing a little reconnaissance to find out about some verses that I considered to be “life verses.” Over a dinner date, in response to her curiosity, I’d shared with Wendy how central Psalm 112 had become to my life over the past decade. When Dad presented me with my prayer bench, I was shocked to find that he had Psalm 112:1 engraved on its reading shelf.
The kneeling bench now sits right next to my desk and I’m enjoying having one more work of family art that I both admire and get to functionally use each day. I’m sure the family arts collection will continue to grow. I hope to someday enjoy work of arts and crafts by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and my nephews and nieces as they explore their own tributaries of Creation’s river.
I have been watching with great interest as my daughter, Taylor, studies Art Therapy at Grandview University. She and her husband, Clayton, returned this past weekend from a summer spent in Gulu, Uganda where she applied Art Therapy techniques with children and adults who have lived through horrors and tragedies that most of us can scarce imagine. Taylor is learning first hand just how powerfully art heals.
For this reason, having finished my last post about Winston Churchill’s many losses and defeats, I want to share one more little known but critical piece to his story. While in the deepest pit of his life when his wife said “I thought he would die of grief,” Churchill discovered that art heals. Paul Johnson writes:
At this moment, providence intervened. By pure chance, his sister-in-law “Goonie” Churchill was painting in watercolor in the garden of Hoe Farm in Surrey, which they had rented jointly. Churchill: “I would like to do that.” She lent him her paints and soon, ambitious as always, he sent for oils and canvases. He loved it. The Scots-Irish master Sir John Lavery, a neighbor, took him in hand, and his dashing wife, Hazel, also a painter, gave him excellent advice. “Don’t hesitate. Dash straight at it. Pile on the paint. Have a go!” He did, with growing relish. He discovered, as other sensible people have done, that painting is not only the best of hobbies but a sure refuge in a time of trouble, for while you are painting you can think of nothing else. Soon misery began to retreat. his mind, his self-respect, his confidence were restored. (Churchill, Paul Johnson, Viking Press)
Painting continued to be a sure refuge for Churchill. He painted the rest of his life and produced a surprisingly impressive body of work.
I wrote a play last Spring. I did it for a local playwriting contest and submitted it in the summer.
Good news: I’m one of the finalists.
Bad news: I got the script back last month and it was drowning in red ink from one of the judges. Now I’m down to two weeks to do rewrites and resubmit it for the finals.
I feel a bit paralyzed at the moment. I’ve been letting the judges’ comments rattle around in my head for weeks and have mentally torn the play apart and put it back together – but I haven’t done much more than that. I know I need to sit down at the computer and just start working on it. As Julia Cameron puts it, "just show up at the page".
I’m too busy.
I’ve got other priorities right now.
I’m not ready.
I don’t know where to start.
Maybe the judges were all wrong – it’s just fine.
What if I tear it apart – do the rewrites and it’s worse?
What if I tear it apart and I can’t get it back together?
I need another cup of coffee.
Flickr photo courtesy of Col.Sanders
Andy Rau at the site ThinkChristian had a recent post in which he quoted poet Czeslaw Milosz as saying that artists have a more difficult time living a holy life in some respects. I don’t buy it. Artists (no matter what our medium) are famous for our moodiness. But I think we’ve created a false image of the starving artist, the suffering artist, the tortured artist – and I think it’s b.s.
I believe that artists feel things more acutely and see things in a different perspective, which leads to feeling like an outcast at times. Nevertheless, to push this to the point of saying that artists have a harder time being holy – that we have a greater bent to sin – is just silly. In fact, I think it’s pride. "Oh look at me! See how hard life is for me? Take pity on me the tortured artist! I’ve got it harder than all of you! My life is more difficult because I’m an ‘artist’! [rolling my eyes]
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