Artful meandering around in paint and poetry

“The instinctive need to transform experience into image is a mysterious phenomenon.”

Thus read a sentence by Roxana Robinson in her book about Georgia O’Keeffe.*

At first reading it struck me that Robinson probably has never experienced that need else she could not have written that sentence. Or perhaps she used mysterious to mean inexplicable. But obviously she has recognized  it in observation else she would not have used the word phenomenon. This is not at all mysterious to me as one who has often felt, but not always indulged the feeling.

I used to do it. As a child I carried a large sketch pad around with me. I distinctly remember a family picnic that included my Great-Grandma Margaret. She wore a dress—which she probably made—with demur stripes in the fabric. She sat on a picnic table bench. I think facing out with her legs towards the park, not under the table. This may be faulty memory, but it doesn’t matter. The thing is I drew a sketch of her that way. I also remember drawing a picture of a red-tailed hawk which were plentiful in Iowa prairies and parks.

Granted these drawings were not great, maybe not even good, but they and others were part and parcel of my attempt to exchange experience for memory. Somewhat like a photographer does in snapping the shutter on a camera. I lament the loss of that sketch-book. Heaven only knows if I tossed it or mom did. She saved the oddest things from my childhood I discovered when she showed stuff she had kept. None of my drawings  were in the box.

Somewhere along the road to adulthood I stopped doing that. I did start turning visuals into poems because of  a poetry session in junior high school. The teacher was a Miss Evans. She gave one of my assignments a C and I asked why. “Because you can do better,” was her answer and I loved her for that. Alas none of those poems survive.

But I have since done many paintings and pen and ink drawings. I do now write poetry.   One perfect example of the experience into image…once I  learned the art of Haiku with its subject, action and break…

gymnast walking

a sunlight beam

cutting edges

So I see the “instinctive need to transform experience into image” as a means of controlling one’s environment, a means of self-expression, an outlet for emotion and, at least for some, a gift intended to bring joy, pleasure and perhaps inspiration to the recipient. Beyond that the method and mode belong subjectively to the individual.

*Robinson, Roxana. Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life (Kindle Location 463). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

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Confessions of a beaten child

Throughout the nineteenth century, corporal punishment was a standard form of child discipline in English institutions…for Charlie it was an experience with authority he never forgot or forgave.

One reason why Chaplin’s screen character’s ass-kicking antics in those early films were so immensely popular with early-twentieth-century moviegoers is that they resonated unconsciously with his audiences’ personal experiences with that universal child-rearing practice….Charlie made them laugh until their sides split. Given our current penchant for gentler forms of child discipline, it is not surprising that the Little Tramp’s crude comic antics have lost much of their freshness and charm for twenty-first-century audiences. In fact it would not be surprising if many of today’s parents would strenuously object to their children viewing many of those early one- and two-reelers that first made Chaplin world famous by 1915, because they contain too much of what is known in modern educational parlance as gratuitous violence. ~Weissman, Stephen. Chaplin: A Life.

Although I understand the author’s statements, my personal experience has not made me laugh at Chaplin’s film expressions of punishment.

I was beaten on my behind with a belt more times than I can remember. I cried and hollered and got beaten harder for it. One time humiliation was added to the drama by being asked to drop my underwear…with other people in the room! I recall having the same response Chaplin is quoted as having: “They tried to break my spirit…” he recalled, but “they never succeeded.”

Decades later I came to understand much of the beating had more to do with the belt-wielder’s anger than with anything I had done. Unfortunately that understanding came too late to not affect my raising my own children. No I did not beat them, but my “unbroken spirit” lashed out often in inappropriate ways.

Charlie never forgave or forgot. He used his films as outlets. I have forgiven because I realized one day I cannot live with resentment or anger, but I have not forgotten.

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