Yesterday I left the combined comfort and frustration of the world wide web and sought research information for my latest article at the library. Libraries are rooms filled with books and people looking for things in books. I should go there more often. Except I do get distracted. I left with books filled with information pertinent to the article, which sit, patient, on the kitchen counter, and a book on Alexander Calder by Jean Lipman which is happy to be open and active.
I brought the book home “for the boys” as I had regaled them with stories of the circus at the Whitney, both Calder’s and the Sunday crowd. We’ve gone on-line to see a bit more and the middle boy received Sandy’s Circus for his ninth birthday. Our middle child is a creative thinker. He draws a lot. Sometimes he just draws Star Wars and battles and race cars. But sometimes he sees a picture in his head and he draws it by color. He will take the red marker and draw all the lines or sections that require red. Then blue. Then black and whatever else and as you watch him you can’t always see what the picture will be until the last color is added to the page and his vision is revealed. This one, the middle one, gets books about art and artists and origami and clay.
We took him to see a Chihuly exhibit in a small gallery in Colorado one summer. As we left he asked for clay. Immediately. I complied. When we got back to the house I advised him to pick one color and save the rest for another day. The clay would dry out, we wouldn’t want to use it all at one time, that would be wasteful. “I have to open them all.” Blink. Think. Blink. “Fine.” And while I moved around the house doing things that mothers do, picking up, putting away, stacking and murmuring, expecting to come back to find a red pot and a blue bowl and a yellow dish he had mushed the clay all together. It swirled and leaped with pattern and color with veins like marble. All bowls, but some low and squat, some tall and thin, but all asymmetrical many with fluted and ruffled edges. And when he was finished, when he had used all the clay, he walked away and has never asked for any again.
A couple of years ago I called his art teacher at school to see if she could suggest an art class that he might like. “It’s not that I think he’s gifted or anything, I just want him to have the opportunity to do what he wants to do” which is generally not math or spelling or sitting still. This woman, whom I respect, who goes in everyday and teaches art to those who are interested and those who are not, listened politely. I’m quite sure she had her head in her hand and her eyes closed as she held the phone and heard my anxious plea for an outlet for my artistic genius. Who was six. “Patricia, the best thing you can give him is a well-stocked art cabinet. Just let him have fun.”
So last night as we lay in my bed, at loose ends as we had finished reading the last of the Harry Potter books aloud on his ninth birthday, we looked at this big book on a man named Sandy whom I keep talking about and mentioning and showing. “Look, see how it all balances?” “Did you notice he used mostly black, white and primary colors?” “Don’t you think it would be great to have a work room like that?” Then we came to a page that had a man on stilts from the circus and he asked, “What are those wires?” “Well, maybe that is what he needed to move the man for his act in the circus.” “Maybe. Or maybe they are the shadows.” Who is teaching who?
When asked, “Presuming that you as an abstract artist are drawn to nature by certain eternal qualities or forces sensed there, would you say that your work is a predominantly subjective expression of your personal relation to these qualities and forces?” Calder replied, “I just do the best I can.” From Calder’s Universe by Jean Lipman.
Photo, also from the book, by Marvin Schwartz.