Lady in a Green Jacket

Lady in a Green Jacket by Auguste Macke, 1913

I searched for a calming work of art, and ended up looking at German expressionist, Auguste Macke’s paintings. Even with the bright colors, the texture of this painting is soft, not harsh. While there is something mysterious about the lady with her face turned away from us, it is a gentle mystery. She seems alone and quiet compared to the two couples in front of her. I like her beauty. I like that she is important enough to the artist to be the central object, and also the artist respects her privacy by not painting her face.

Objects in the Forest

Objects in the Forest by Alberto Savinio, 1928

This is a celebration of the imagination. This is how pretty and bright and living the junk in our mind can be. Yes, it’s a cluttered mess, but doesn’t that make it all the more important to shed light on it, straighten it out, expose it? Yes, it’s totally different from all the scenery we know about, but doesn’t that make it more interesting, more unique in comparison? Yes, the forest in the background is equally interesting. I want to go there sometime, too. But for now, for this moment, I want to see what our own minds are capable of conjuring. Put the known objects we have been collecting since childhood into black-and-white. Paint the clutter in our imaginations. Write a descriptive essay about it. Write a poem! Be surreal. Don’t bother making connections. Who cares if that ladder looks like the one we used to climb into the haybarn? For now it isn’t even a ladder. It’s a bridge. Or two doorways leading to another land. Or a new form of punctuation signalling the end of a blog post.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, from the American Side by Frederic Edwin Church, 1867

The Niagara Falls come up in our conversations sometimes. They usually take on a mythical flavor because the kids haven’t been there (or to any big waterfalls). We have read books about daredevils going down the falls in barrels. Even Paddle-to-the-Sea goes down the Niagara Falls. Mirette and Bellini walk across the Niagara Falls on a high wire. The falls show up in poems about America. They are often photographed and painted. But for us, all those things are quiet. I would like to go there someday and feel the spray and hear the roar. I’d like to get dizzy from staring at them so long.

Usually, I’m okay being limited to places I can drive to within an hour or so. I’m okay not going overseas to get immersed in other cultures. I’m fine with Wisconsin. But there really is something about Niagara Falls that makes me want to see it. From a safe distance, of course.

The Meadows

The Meadows by William Langson Lathrop, 1897
The Meadows by William Langson Lathrop, 1897

This artist is from Illinois, which explains why the landscape is familiar and home-like to me. Illinois isn’t very far off from Wisconsin. In its sparseness I find comfort. It is simple, not too bright to dazzle me, and not too dark to sadden me. I like the puddles and the straight horizon. I like the two tall trees on the fenceline. I even like the cows, probably because they are just two cows and don’t seem to be the most important thing here.

What is important? If you don’t mind, I’d like to tie in some homeschooling thoughts here. What is important is the stretch of meadow, the expanse to walk through. It is important to have puddles to splash in, and equally important to have dry spots interspersed so you don’t always have to be in the water. Like school, this expanse is regular enough to not be scary and rugged enough to provide special experiences. There is a gate to head toward. There are some things around to attract your attention when you get bored with the puddles. But most of all, the education is the whole expanse you walk through. There’s that gate, but no brick path with arrows. There’s the fence, but lots of space. There are slow, chewing creatures around, and maybe in my metaphor, they are like me, the teacher, and mostly I just watch the student and moo at him occasionally, keep my eye on him, walk toward a new clump of meadow and see if he will follow me there.

I am often more rigid than that, but lately, I’ve been feeling like that meadow-approach is better than other approaches.

A Winter’s Day in Charlottenlund

A Winter's Day in Charlottenlund by Peder Mork Monsted, 1918
A Winter’s Day in Charlottenlund by Peder Mork Monsted, 1918

If the weather had cooperated the kids and I would have gone owling this evening with some people from the Horicon Marsh. But the wind picked up and the roads drifted over. We didn’t go.

This painting captures that trick of late afternoon winter sun. Monsted is a Danish artist and worth looking at. His paintings are crisp and bright. He paints trees as he sees them – no generalizing or trying to make them pretty. I think it must be his love of nature that shows through each painting, infusing it with beauty. Art is not just a pretty picture. It’s a message, a worldview, a special interpretation. It says, “Look at me,” but it also says, “Look the way my artist looked.” The viewer brings something to the interpretation, too, some associations or memories. But I think the thing that draws us into a work of art is the invitation to look through someone else’s eyes. Even if the painting is so realistic it looks photographic, it is still a painting, still a product of an artist. The artist cannot paint something, disappear, and then everyone can pretend it was made by divine means. Look at real nature for that. A painting is a look into humanity, even if it is a landscape.

Waiting

Waiting by Gyula Zorkoczy (1873-1932)
Waiting by Gyula Zorkoczy (1873-1932)

A devotional book I picked up last night spoke exactly to the sore spots in my heart. God is enough. God has done everything for me, and of course He is going to help me today. Of course He will help me tomorrow. Of course He will keep helping me, whenever I need help. If I am a lonely person waiting on a quiet roadside or a lonely person waiting in the midst of loud people, God is already there with me.

Sometimes I think theology could be as simple as that. God is enough and He is near.