Saturday, November 22, 2008

Creativity Begins In . . .

Creativity begins in dissent. I heard someone say that a long time ago and believed it. But now I am not so sure.
Here is why.
I was painting with a friend the other afternoon—or rather making graded dilutions of my colors to see what water did to them. When I finished there was still time left over, so I made a copy of a print hanging on the wall.
The print was “The Bath” by Mary Cassatt. As I made my quick little copy, I saw the care with which Cassatt had composed her painting.
The four essential elements overlap one another: the woman, the little girl, the basin of water, and the pitcher. Together they form a unity that you could almost cut from cardboard and place over any background you like. Almost: Cassatt anchors the pitcher at the bottom edge of the composition, so the unity of woman and girl and bath belongs to this room and no other. Therefore Cassatt presents us with something universal, for the more particular a thing is, the more universal it is.
Look at the care with which the bodies of the woman and girl are disposed. The negative space made by the girl’s legs is mirrored by the space made by the woman’s arm and the girl. The woman’s hand and arm are mirrored in the girl’s hand and arm. The girl’s other arm is crooked to hold the woman’s knee: the woman’s arm is crooked to hold the girl. Both faces look down at the large hand and the small foot in the basin. Their postures are in fact identical. And yet they are two separate people. Their hair color is different, their skin tones, their features. (You cannot see this in my little copy. Go to the link.)
Look at the careful rendering of the essential elements: the modeling of the girl’s tanned arms and pale body, the folds of the woman’s dress, the gold line decorations on the basin and the pitcher. Then look at the careful carelessness of the brush stokes in the background. Quick. Dash.
I cannot see the creativity of this painting beginning in dissent. Even if you could find some art critic—and I am not saying you can—writing about the plight of the working class and the inequality of women washing grubby little feet while the men sit about in banks smoking cigars—even if you could find such opinions, I am not sure they have anything to do with the care and attention put into this painting.
It seems more likely that Mary Cassatt had simply found something she loved looking at and put this care and attention into this painting so someone else could see it, too.
As for dissent—lots of creativity surely begins there, as well as in anger, outrage, hatred, disillusionment, despair. As well as in playfulness, maddness, religious rapture, crankiness, and many other things you might name. But I am putting away the notion that any one of these things, and it alone, drives creativity.

Friday, November 14, 2008

How I Learned To Make Banana Bread

Thursday morning I made banana bread by a recipe Annika and I saw on Boosh Koosh. We had been having a bagel in the kitchen when she saw the DVD on the table and asked for it. I had been wanting to draw a picture of her awake, but she had never been still long enough. I thought if I put the DVD in, I might have time to get off a quick drawing.
We watched a particularly powerful episode where the blue dog and a young man named Joe dress up and do “Little Red Riding Hood.” The recipe was in a kitchen sequence, when Riding Hood was packing her basket for Grandmother.
The director presented the recipe in pictographs: pictures of three bananas, two eggs, one stick butter. There was even a simple animation showing how you peel the bananas and drop them whole into the bowl.
I was eager to try it. I keep bananas in my room to prevent Low Potassium Level, but I don’t often eat them, so they were in perfect condition and there were plenty of them.
It worked great! I put the whole bananas, two eggs—cracked—butter, two cups of flour, some white powder in a spoon, and salt into the bowl and went at it with a wooden paddle held vertically like they showed on Boosh Koosh. At first the flour tended to go up into the air, but after a moment the eggs took hold, and pretty soon even the bananas were beginning to break up. After an hour in a 350° oven, I was spreading butter on a hot slice of banana bread that I would never have made unless I had wanted to draw a picture of Annika.
Isn’t that the way it is in life sometimes? You have to do it fast or not at all, surge ahead or miss your chance, flail away with a wooden paddle or have no banana bread. And here I have come all this way without realizing it until now. No matter. Once we learn to go all out, we fly.

Friday the Thirteenth Was on a Thursday This Month

What do you think about when you wake up in New England on a cold wet November morning when the Patriots lost to the Jets by three points? I thought about having beignets and coffee at the Cafe Du Monde while a street musician sings “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”