This Tuesday, we had the privilege of receiving a speech from student Maureen Anderson at the closing ceremony for the fall semester at the IAU. Here it is:
John handed out our first reading for seminar: a text about color, lines and light by Rembrandt. It was concise and profound, as I would soon find many of these readings to be, and, like the rest, it expanded beyond this discussion, this artist, and this context. “Contours should be drawn,” he said, “not in a continuing manner, but rather fragment by fragment, with a lightness of hand, that the object be not closed but open to the light, that it may breathe in the enveloping atmosphere.”
I remember a day, I think it was in early October. Paint and turpentine shared the space within my bag, my easel hung haphazardly and with each step, my two glass jars said a word or two to each other. I stood beside a stream and I contemplated the risk of crossing over it via fallen tree, as ants, seemingly infinite in number, greeted me to investigate the trespassing. They herded me across. I saw the woods which held me. I looked further. Grey violets hid themselves in the trees and the light spat out an electric yellow green. One stroke at a time, I tried to figure out how to paint it. It was really hard.
But that was my problem: I wasn’t trying to paint a painting, I was trying to paint the woods. I didn’t know there was a difference at the time, but alas, I am so much wiser now.
I don’t remember exactly what each leaf on each tree looked like that day, but I remember there was comfort, solitude, nature, a nameless quality. That’s what I should have, somehow, been painting, using those trees as tools to create something else.
After struggling with this for a while, John gave me some simple but powerful advice. As he sat and read, I was to look at the entire scene that existed before me, and paint the one color that jumped out at me, one intentional, specific stroke at a time, with much, with much feeling and deliberation. In doing so, someone who did not look like, but felt like John began to appear on my canvas.
At my most recent critique, I saw all of my paintings from the past four months together. It’s hard to describe how everything hit me at that moment, but together they retold the semester, and I felt full. I realized that it’s not just about the paintings I’ve made, it’s about their whole story and the meaning they give each other. I was able to see how I’ve begun putting myself into a painting; it was the difference between painting the leaves of the trees and painting the heart of nature. It was the difference between painting the color of someone’s face and the color of their character.
I still can’t claim I can really make a true piece of art, but I’m figuring out how to figure it out. I’ve been painting and drawing all semester at Marchutz, and I’m finally realizing that fragment by fragment, Marchutz has been drawing me this whole time.
I’ve been breathing in the provencal white yellow light that casts my-favorite-color-violet shadows. I’ve been breathing in the silence of the landscape and the rhythm of voices in discussion, in laughter. I’ve handed the pencil to everyone in the Marchutz family to draw a little contour for what is becoming me, I’ve let Flannery O’Connor and Van Gogh throw a few down, and those ants at the stream may have gotten one in too. In allowing the world to draw me I am learning to be open to its light, to exist harmoniously with it. I’m recognizing that one stroke at a time, I am becoming more whole, more able to relate to the world in which I exist. I’m hoping that if I let the world create me, it will teach me how to create a world.
Anyways, “Contours should be drawn, not in a continuing manner, but rather fragment by fragment, with a lightness of hand, that the object be not closed but open to the light, that it may breathe in the enveloping atmosphere.”