Wilbur and I have been married for over thirty-two years. Last week I finally figured out one reason that I love her. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there are many reasons why I love her, it’s just that I’ve never been able to really describe those reasons. Instead I make up little poems like this one…
I would rather
the moonlight reflect off
than look at
the moon itself.
Obviously I’m no poet but it seems the only way I can describe the why of love. Certainly there are gestures of care that express love but no real words to describe the why. Why? Love, as everyone knows, is a mystery. A poem is an arrangement of words. A painting is an arrangement of material. The particulars of that arrangement are an attempt to understand and express love; to express the mystery.
Walking up our staircase I froze, in a revelatory moment I realized why I love Wilbur. I love her love of symbols. Our house is full of symbols. Little arrangements of things are scattered all around, small strange shrines, images of Goddesses, Christian, Pagan, Eastern or plain old Midwestern Knickknack. Symbols gather in corners peeking out of darkness. Wilbur will light a candle for some secret thought. As if fine-tuning an unseen cosmic vibration she will place a stone, move an icon, hang some fabric, turn a vase. What I realized I love about her is that she has developed a secret language with our world, the ghosts, the pasts, the imaginary. It’s a world of symbols jostling about nesting with each other.
She gives gifts of symbols. Objects that have accrued meaning or that are somehow significant in ways I don’t always understand. A shell, a feather, a piece of wood, a rock, resonates with meaning. I think sometimes it is an object’s shape, color or texture that provokes meaning. Other times it is the object’s history, where it was found or who gave it to her.
A painting, every painting ever made, is just an arrangement of material. That’s all a painting is. Actually that is all any art ever is.
I think of old Dutch Still Life paintings like this one:
Elias van den Broeck 1649-1708
A vast multitude of paintings like this one were produced in Northern Europe. They are called genre paintings and they were created for a burgeoning urban-centered, upper-middle class. While representing displays of wealth and class, there was also a moral component, reminders of death and the transient nature of life and fortunes. At any moment we can lose it all, or we can die.
There might be another purpose for these paintings. It’s total speculation but maybe in the arrangement of objects, relationships, proximity, distance there is an attempt to channel the imagination. Art becomes a communication with a magical, mystical world that cannot be explained or understood, just brought forth. It is a world of the mind and imagination. It is the negative shapes between objects. The way air and light are restricted, focused and released. Or maybe it’s the magic in the implied narrative of a certain object in proximity to a particular flower. Poetry is suggested by the way light bounces off a cut of crystal vase.
Wilbur and I walk an ancient narrow street in a small village in rural France. There is deep meaning here. An oblique breeze brings a smell, a bit of bouncing light catches the eye, a distant bell rings; memories are brought forward. Shuffling around jostling up against one another my thoughts overlap creating new meanings from ancient symbols.
Like the words to a poem each object, each thought, each memory is placed in accordance to a secret resonance. Symbols, in accordance to internal forces torque against each other driving aesthetic beauty, and thus, meaning forward. It’s always a language that needs to be teased out, drawn towards the viewer’s heart. I think this is a language of love. No, it IS love, it is art.