Surprised!

Henri Rousseau, Surprised!, 1891

Henri Rousseau, Surprised!, 1891


I’m going to show this to my small class of little girls tomorrow. We are going to draw a pretty picture of tulips and a butterfly, so this ought to be a nice contrast. I might mention mood. The mood of this painting is wild, surprising, frantic, fast, dangerous. The mood of our tulips and butterfly is calm and composed. I might also mention that Rousseau had never been to a jungle and some of his “jungle plants” are actually houseplants he used as models. It might seem like cheating to some artists. It might seem unreal to others. To Rousseau, it was creating a scene from his imagination in the only way he knew how. All is fair in art. (As long as you sign your own name at the bottom.)

The Buccaneers

“The greatest mistake,” she mused, her chin resting on her clasped hands, her eyes fixed unseeingly on the dim reaches of the park, “the greatest mistake is to think that we ever know why we do things… I suppose the nearest we can ever come to it is by getting what old people call ‘experience.’ But by the time we’ve got that we’re no longer the persons who did the things we no longer understand. The trouble is, I suppose, that we change every moment; and the things we did stay.”

— from The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton, 1938 (completed by Marion Mainwaring, 1993)

This book is not about pirates. It’s about a set of American girls moving up in New York society, then going to England where they enchant the English gentlemen with their ignorance of nobility and the rules that accompany it. Of these girls and their mothers and their governesses, Annabel St. George is the youngest and the most sensitive to true beauty and fine things. She makes a mistake, which she later realizes in the quote above. This mistake, having to do with marriage and the nature of a man and the nature of an old house, is heart-wrenching, and feels very true to life. I can see how any marriage might feel like this at some point, and I can see how any wife might reflect the same things as in the quote above. While Annabel takes an escape route I cannot recommend, the story struggles with issues that apply even now in rural Wisconsin, in 2015, in an old brick farmhouse. One doesn’t have to be a member of English nobility to understand Annabel’s dilemma.

Ecclesiastes

After studying the book of Ecclesiastes, I spent a day shrugging my shoulders and sighing, “It’s all meaningless.” But really I did learn something about this strange book of the Bible. I learned that the Preacher (who may or may not be Solomon) was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, a realistic human being in a fallen world. I learned how difficult and confusing it must have been to live in Old Testament times, when God’s people lived without the benefit of the New Testament and the life of Christ. I even came up with an art analogy about the book of Ecclesiastes: in a picture of a Christian’s life, where Christ and the gospel message are the central figure, Ecclesiastes is the negative space. Perhaps that is why we hardly know how to study this book. It requires a different mind-set, seeing God’s Word from a strange perspective.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party

The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81

The Luncheon of the Boating Party at Bougival, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1880-81

Do you relate to any of the people in this party? It’s what I like about this painting: so many personalities. None of the females seem to be like me, but that’s okay. I’m content to be the onlooker to this happy little crowd. Take some time to follow each person’s gaze. Not many of them are looking at each other. I believe that is an artist trick to move the viewer’s gaze around the painting.

Some Homeschool Thoughts

The kids and I attended homeschool co-op this afternoon, so my brain is buzzing with thoughts. There was a lot of talk about ADHD and other disorders, some moms grateful for the diagnosis and others grateful they homeschooled so their child wouldn’t be labeled and lost in a crowd of other labeled children. I don’t have a strong opinion on this topic because I don’t know a lot about it. I think it is important to understand each child individually, and to teach them accordingly. For instance, my seven-year-old son is loud, sometimes bossy, often surprisingly responsible, stubborn, and yet when he finds something that he loves to learn, he really goes after it full-force. When he hits on a favorite subject, I try not to get in his way with busy little worksheets or boring talks about it. Those are learning killers for him. Often, letting him choose a library book about his subject of interest (even if it is above his level) is what will make him feel like he’s becoming an expert.

My almost-six-year-old daughter is dreamy, quiet (okay, silent or whispery half the time), does not like being wrong, reluctant to move ahead in her reading and math. When it comes to school, she is the more frustrating child because I get the impression she doesn’t want to learn. So, I find good living books, and we read a lot. She likes to listen to books. She also likes crafts and making pretty things. She is often begging me to do things like paint on a canvas, sew, set the table, buy fresh flowers. I am trying to content myself with this. It is hard for me because it doesn’t seem like she enjoys school, or at least that old definition of school that I can’t quite unstick from my brain.

My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter simply won’t hold her pencil the correct way. It doesn’t matter how often I remind her. I am in the process of trying to let that frustration go. She’s busy putting things in her brain, and I’m stuck staring at the position of her fingers. I think I remember all three of the children being amazing at this age, learning things by leaps and bounds. She likes to be at the kitchen table with the others when we do school. She doesn’t often like to say out loud what she has learned, but I understand that. That’s acceptable. Her intelligence leaks through anyway.

Now that you know all about my children (honestly, I wasn’t planning on writing all this–it spilled out), I can get to my point. Homeschool moms are relating to their children intimately, touching on so many aspects of their life, that it is no wonder we feel a little scared, as if we’re embarking on this giant project that no one else can fully relate to. It’s because we’re all dealing with completely different children. No one else has had our exact combination of personalities. We parents are on a path of discovery right along with the children. So even though this week of homeschooling isn’t going as planned, I’m not discounting it. It’s a growing time. We’re learning something.

Durer’s Hare

Young Hare by Albrecht Durer, 1502

Young Hare by Albrecht Durer, 1502

In our next semester of homeschool co-op, I am teaching a drawing and art appreciation class to a small group of 4-1/2 to 6-year-old girls. This is coming up next week. I might prepare myself by posting the artwork I’m showing them for the art appreciation portion of the class. In the first class, I’ll show them Durer’s Young Hare, which isn’t young. It’s a mature hare. Painters in the early 1500s didn’t often paint only an animal. So this one is special, not to mention meticulously detailed. There is a debate about whether Durer painted from a live specimen or stuffed. Whichever it was, the artist is skilled at putting the spark of life in his painting. I love seeing art that looks as if the artist spent a lot of time carefully adding one small stroke after one small stroke. It shows a love for painting, a commitment to his work, and a patience to reach a truthful image.

War and Peace

“A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, ‘Today I’m going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep.'”

— from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1869

Although it has been about five years since I read War and Peace, I am writing about it tonight. My fiction-reading has not been real inspiring lately, and I don’t want to write about poetry tonight. I looked through some quotes from War and Peace and found this one. I don’t recall who said it, or where it is in the book. Honestly, I don’t recall the quote at all. War and Peace is a grand book, and my memories of it are general impressions rather than specifics. (I was quite proud about finishing it before it needed to be returned to the library!). But here is what I love about Tolstoy: he has so many great things to say. He doesn’t come off as a writer who writes just to see his own words in print. He has philosophy behind his fiction! His characters speak important things to each other. Whoever said the quote above is like me. I get exhausted and intimidated thinking about what all has to happen before, say, my children are adults. My husband can talk about buying a car for the kids when they start driving in ten years, and I almost panic. I need to take things daily. Sometimes weekly. Sometimes hourly. And I need to rest up in between. Mostly, I need to not think about the thousand miles.