An Artful Life

Can you imagine a life without art? Not me.

For, as long as I can remember, art has been a major part of my life, beginning with the Crayola crayons that were on my school supply list each year. The anticipation of a new box, the hope that maybe this would be the year that my mother would spring and get me the biggest size—the set of 64–was enough to make me do a happy dance.

John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.” Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Oh, yes! I’ll never forget the scent and waxy feel of the colors—Magenta, Blue Bell, Burnt Sienna, Carnation Pink, and Violet Red. For me, it was the best thing about the end of summer. The joy that art brings, and the anticipation of creating new art projects—was mine for the taking. Ah, happiness. Ah, hope. Which springs eternal, after all.

School helped form the foundation for my love of art. In grade school, we took field trips to the city, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim.  I was always drawn to the Impressionists, though I also came to love Victorian Classicism while seeing a special exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Art could be found in my home. My father collected paintings. Some were originals of lesser-known artists; others were replicas. I loved them all except one, a portrait by a well-known artist that hung opposite the door to my bedroom. It was of a solemn woman with deep, soulful eyes. She terrified me to no end.

With time, my father acquired so many paintings, that we ran out of places to hang them, so they were stacked on the wall, all the way to the ceiling, just inches apart, much like you’d see in an art gallery.

I acquired this serene painting years ago from a local artist, Maichuy.

When I went to college in the Boston area, I took classes in art history and fell in love with the work of John Singer Sargent. You can’t truly appreciate his art until you’ve seen it for yourself at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. There, you’ll see one of my favorites, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.” Sargent used a canvas so enormous (87 x 87 inches or 222 x 222 cm), that it’s practically life size, making you feel as if you’ve just walked into the room and encountered Mr. Boit’s sweet, enchanting daughters, innocently at play.

Here’s a portrait I painted while in college, post-toilet.

I love to draw, though I’m far from good at it. While in college, I enrolled in classes in oil and acrylic painting. You could tell that my professor was frustrated with me. I was awful at painting the models that posed for us each week, and the professor would push me to find my inner passion, as well as the right perspective, so that I could make my paintings come alive. I kept trying and trying, to no avail. Until one day, I was painting in my little apartment. So small was it, I propped my easel in the scant kitchen and the only thing I could paint was the miniscule bathroom that was just off the kitchen.

And something clicked. I poured my all into painting a still-life of the bathroom, at least that which was visible from the kitchen, the sink and part of the toilet. And when I took it to class, anxiously awaiting my professor’s reaction, to my astonishment, he was pleased.

“You’ve got it!” he exclaimed.

I was dumbfounded. A sink and a toilet had contributed to my art in a way that nothing else had! It was perplexing, but, who was I to question progress? Which just goes to show you:  you never know what you’re going to find in a toilet (and a sink)! As a result of my effort, I finished the class with flying colors. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Through the years, I’ve continued to dabble in painting. These days, my home is my palette. I paint, I stencil, I take photographs—another of my father’s fascinations—and I seem to be following in his footsteps when it comes to acquiring art.

For, I cannot resist! I don’t care who the artist is, if I fall in love with their work, I’ll find a way to add it to my collection.  It seems whenever I go to an street festival, community fair or to the annual Harvest Festival held each fall around here, I gravitate to the art. My friend, Gale, who often goes with me, gets exasperated by how much time I can spend looking at paintings and other works of art.

Recently added to my collection is this original painting by Sally Simmons.

Most recently, while in Seattle, I visited Pike Place Market, which is known as the place to shop for produce, fish and the like. But, it has become so much more, over the years, selling all kinds of local art. While there, I met a woman, Sally Simmons, who uses watercolor and her imagination, to create brightly-colored, whimsical paintings. A couple were of owls, which are a favorite of mine. (Just look at the banner atop my blog!)

I lingered awhile over her exquisite art, that seemed to sparkle with rich colors dancing before my eyes, and I agonized over whether to buy an original piece, or a less expensive, smaller copy. The colors on the copy weren’t as vibrant, so in the end I bought the original and Sally could tell it was going to a good home, seeing how I “oohed” and “ahhed” over her paintings, and wished I could have taken them all home with me.

Which is why, I cannot fathom a day without art. Can you? What does art mean to you?

60 thoughts on “An Artful Life

  1. Pingback: Six Easy Pieces | Musings by an ND Domer's Mom

  2. Monica,
    I love this post. When I began blogging my first blog was called, “A Little Bit of Culture.” I came up with the idea over my lunch hour on a particularly lousy work day. I felt I spent so much time working with petty people on projects that in the big scheme of things doesn’t matter. I was missing out on what really mattered. The blog didn’t last long though – I felt overwhelmed and out of my league. You’ve inspired me to begin my project again, privately this time. I am starting with studying every artist you mention in this post and adding The Boston Museum of Fine Arts to my bucket list.

    Ah the 64 pack of crayons. What memories. My parents refused to splurge, but I had a friend who would share hers. It was heaven.

    I am also fortunate to have the beautiful Calatrava Art Museum here in Milwaukee. I have made an attempt to see almost every show and always leave in a better place.

    Also, your painting is very good. I would love to see more of your work.

    • Oh, Savvy, I never did get the 64 pack. Too expensive for us, too. What I loved about that pack, wasn’t just the colors. It was the fact that it came with a built-in crayon sharpener. That was the height of cool! If you ever do make it to the Boston Museum, please let me know what you think. And say hi from me, to the daughters of Edward Darley Boit! 😉

  3. Thank you for showing us your artsy side! I love your painting, especially the expression in her eyes. Exposure to art in childhood is an amazing and wonderful thing. My love of art began with trips to museums and galleries as a child and now I cannot imagine a life without making art. The owl painting was a wonderful find! It must make you smile every day.

    • Thanks so much, Nancy. Isn’t it wonderful to have an artistic side? I’m terrible at understanding IRS tax forms, graphs and the like, but give me a canvas, paints and brush any day. That’s happiness!

  4. First of all, I LOVE that painting you did in college. It’s definitely got a unique artistic stamp to it. I marvel at those who can draw and paint. I paint with words, but often think of myself the lowly step-sister of the true artist. Today I went to see the work of an acquaintance who sculpts in metal — amazing, huge pieces created with a tiny blowtorch and I was completely awed. Personal expression through art, music and writing is as varied as the individuals and that’s what fascinates me about it.

    • Thank you so much, Jayne! I actually showed it to a co-worker and he suggested I bring it to the office to display it! We’ve often had gallery’s lend art to display on our office walls, so considering my work isn’t in any gallery, I took it as quite a compliment. I like how you got to see a work of art today that awed you. Being in awe of art is what makes us human and fills us with so many emotions that words alone cannot express.

  5. Art. How blank our homes and lives would be without it.

    Art surrounds us. Without my oriental carpets, carefully crafted furniture and the crewel embroidery on my walls – medieval and Jacobean pieces I created over two decades – my house would not be my home.

    Art is also history. How much we would not know about our ancestors without it?

    Great and thoughtful post.

  6. Monica, great post! I think I’d implode without art in my life. I’m so struck down by it, I often begin to cry when I finally see a piece of art I’d grown up with as a child, like the green woman in Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin-Rouge that I had on a checkbook cover…art finds its way into my life in the strangest ways, but is so much in the foreground, it almost overtakes my writing. Thanks for this!

    • I know exactly how you feel, Elisabeth. Art is so vital to our lives. It’s what keeps me going! I think I’d be overcome by stress, if I wasn’t able to take small moments to stop and appreciate the art that surrounds me. I’m so glad you understand and feel the same way. I love Toulouse-Lautrec’s work!

  7. Monica, great piece. I can’t imagine a world without art either (in all its forms). Your painting is wonderful. It’s fun to learn more about you, and be inspired by other aspects of your creativity in addition to your writing. Keep painting (and writing)!

  8. In full agreement–and my interest in and passion for art seems to grow by leaps and bounds as I uncover my own dormant creativity. I love your painting, above–it is compelling, and I found myself wanting to know what she was thinking, what had gone one during her day, and what was going to come next.

    • Wow, Britton, you make my painting sound so special. Thank you. Maybe I should call it “My Mona Lisa.” When I posted this photo of my painting, I never once thought people would wonder about her, but a few others have said something similar in their comments. I’m truly flattered. Thanks for reading! 😉

  9. Monica, I just wrote a line in a novel I am working on about the effect of art on the viewers and how, if done correctly, it becomes a piece of their soul that stays with them forever.
    I started an art club at my high school, (yes I was a young activist) but found a little later on that my talent was more suited to the form of written art than to that of painting or line drawings – though I am mean with charcoal! Art has been the driving force in my travels and I cringe every time I hear that the programs are being cut again in the school systems. What would we know about ancient cultures if not for their art? I love this piece. Your love of art and talent for it shines through.

    • Thank you so much, Renee! You’ve said all that I wanted to say, by writing about art. I worry that kids today aren’t being exposed to art in the same way that we were. Art was so integral to my education. It seemed all points led to it. I love that you were an art activist in school. I can go years without drawing, but when I pick it up again, it feels so good. Do you still draw with charcoal now and then? Hope so!

  10. ~~~~Monica,
    I LOooooooVE your painting. Can I have it? Seriously! I love it.


    To me, it is Sooo many things. It cannot be contained or controlled.

    ~~~~~Writing, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Dance, Movement, Architect, Poetry, even Cooking…..

    I remember a scene from Woody Allen’s film, EXTERIORS, which I’ve never forgotten: A women was screaming and going crazy,
    and she said, “How the fuck do people survive in this world without ART?”

    I love love love that.

    For me,
    I. Could. Not.

    Xx Great Post, Dearest.

    • Oh, Kim! You love my painting too?? I’m so happy! I like it but I’m not a professional by any means, so it’s nice to hear when others like it, too. As soon as I tire of it, I’ll send it along to you, my dear.

      I love Woody Allen films, but I don’t think I saw that one. Anyway, love that quote. It is so spot on!

  11. Monica, the original owl painting is gorgeous! The colors are so vibrant and their expression so beautiful, it’s easy to understand why you had to buy it. I love it! Art plays a very important role in my life. As I may have mentioned to you, the Son is a graduate of a visual arts academy and my house is filled with his work. He is very gifted and I think he gets that from me because back in the day, I too dabbled in art. hee hee! I wish I had the money to fill my home with beautiful art pieces, but alas, such is not the case. And so I get my art fix by visiting museums and drooling with the many art galleries that abound on this continent. I think your piece of the girl is quite good, chica! I like her expression! 🙂

    • Bella, isn’t it just gorgeous?? Now you see why I couldn’t not get it? Too beautiful for words. The artist really did say to me she was glad it would be going to a good home. I was so in love with her work and can appreciate it for its genuine beauty. I still find it hard to believe she just uses watercolors and not acrylics. The colors are so brilliant.

      Maybe you can do a post on your son’s art sometime? Would love to see it, though if it takes as long as getting a photo of Roxy, well, I won’t hold my breath. 😉

      So, you like my painting? Can you believe that when I moved out here 21 years ago, my father (he was still alive!) packed up all my paintings in two rather large boxes. Did a good job of protecting them, padding them and taping the box shut. Well, every time I’ve moved (four times), I’ve moved these boxes with me. But it wasn’t until this weekend (because of this post), that I finally OPENED the boxes!! And there they were, 20 of my works of art, ranging from bad to really bad. Anyway, I like this one too (which is why I included it here, I suppose), and am sorry for all the wasted time of keeping them in their boxes and not enjoying them. Sigh.

  12. My loves tend to be words (lyrics, prose, and verse), although, when I was in Rome I gained an perspective on art and recently I was at the Met in NY. I have learned, some, but not all, speaks to me. I used to give myself a bad time for not knowing more, but I cut myself some slack – not everything is for everyone. Each of us our moved to tears by different mediums. I heard Edna St. Vincent Milay reading a poem (old recording) and was completely taken in by her voice. A poet reading her own words, simple enough, but it took me down. I also am a movie fiend – not a painting, but watching a well scripted, casted, filmed movie, can also inspire. I say – enjoy what moves you. Art comes in many different forms. On a side note, I draw a mean stick figurine.

    • Brenda, you and I know that it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you follow your passion. I agree, for me, too, it’s writing. I dabble in art and think of it more as a hobby. I’d love to see your stick figures someday. 😉

  13. Love this post, Monica. I believe it was art that, to a large degree, brought me back from the worst of my psychotic episodes, especially when words and writing failed me. I’m crazy about it–quite literally, you might say. Love, as well, the way you describe your crayolas as a kid. God, I loved them!

    • Kathy, I’m so glad to hear that art nurtured you back to good health, and to yourself. What a beautiful sentiment. Weren’t Crayolas the best? And this was one time you could accept no imitations. Other crayons are too waxy and no matter how hard you try to draw with them, barely any color shows up on the paper. It’s enough to discourage anyone’s creativity. Crayola’s rock!

  14. I cannot imagine a life without art (or music). Like you, I have a thing for Impressionist Art, though I could easily get lost in so many rooms at the Met. Last week I saw the Cindy Sherman retrospective at MOMA, which gave me more insight than I ever really into her brilliance. This week I’m going to see the Stein collection at the Met, before it closes and, on a different note, the Schiaparelli/Prada exhibit. I promise to report back.

    • Deborah, music of course! The arts are so important and yet it’s the first to be cut when schools tighten their budgets, which breaks my heart. Lucky you, to be able to go to all those museums willy nilly. Please give my regards to the Met! Remember me to the Guggenheim, too!

  15. I am an admirer but not a creator. I am always in awe with how artists can create – it’s obvious they “see” life differently. Looking up close at a painting, it looks like an unconnected series of brush strokes and dabs. Stand back a little … et voilà! Bravo on your Sink and Toilet. Writers, too, get the “you’ve got it!” moment!

    • Astra, you are so right! Or, should I say, write! Like when Eliza Doolittle finally gets the language and sings, “The Rain in Spain.” Well, the toilet was my rain in Spain. What was yours, Ms. Writer Extraordinaire?

  16. I love this post Monica. I really like that painting you did in college, it would be interesting to see how your style has evolved.
    Art speaks to me on many levels. I can’t draw or paint, I do admire those who can. I do think color is in my life because I was introduced to Impressionism as a child. Since then, I visit every gallery and see every exhibition I can – of course it’s limited now but art is everywhere for me. I see it in my house, my surroundings and most importantly when I travel, I make it a point to surround myself with it. When I visited the Uffizi this March, I could not move from Botticelli’s Primavera and The Birth of Venus. The brush strokes, the vibrant colors, It was so mesmerizing. I felt the same when I was at Prado in Madrid. I never thought Goya or Velasquez would inspire me but I felt like I was seeing something so much bigger than me. I am very thankful that I was exposed to art at a very early age, as a result, I am able to appreciate many forms of it. My daughter was learning about Van Gough and Chagall recently – I was so impressed her teacher spent time with the kids showing them the different styles of art.

    • MM, I always look forward to your comments. They’re always so meaningful and have a way of perking me up! I knew right away that art would mean something to you, too. We are so alike, after all, in our tastes. And you live in a great place that has a lot of art and museums, etc. Lucky you. I love my home in Southern California, but I sometimes miss the art that New York has to offer. Thank you for sharing your art preferences. (I went through a period in high school when I was obsessed with Botticelli and in particular, The Birth of Venus. Stunning!)

      • Monica, you’re so lovely. It’s very rare to find someone who thinks quite a bit like you, I do so love reading your posts. I think the one thing we don’t have in common is some of the reality t.v. I watch 😉 – although I try to make it a little less frivolous i.e. Around the World in 80 Plates on Bravo- which I love because it is about travel and food- and then my guiltiest pleasure – Dancing with the Stars. Horrendous I know, I have been known to not pick up the phone on some Monday nights.

        I brought back a poster of ‘La Primavera’ and sit in my library room for a little bit everyday, mesmerized by it. I also love Picasso and Miro – my other wish is to visit the museums in Barcelona. Someday soon, I hope.

      • OMG, I can’t believe you said Barcelona, because I was actually planning to get advice from you on traveling. You see, I’m planning a trip this summer and the first spot I’m hitting is Barcelona! Since you are such a world traveler I wanted to see if you have any recommendations. But now I know to hit the museums! I can’t wait.

      • Oh wow Monica, that’s fantastic. Where else are you going? Valencia, Madrid, Seville? I am so excited for you. I hope the Gothic Quarter and La Sagrada Familia is also high on your list. The Picasso museum is supposed to be just lovely. Take a walk along La Rambla and you’ve absolutely got to try La Boqeria – the public market with the most wonderful cuisine. With a tapa atmosphere, you can virtually try everything you want, moving along from one to the other. I can’t wait to see your photos.

      • Thanks for all the tips on Barcelona. From there I’m going to Vienna, Salzburg and Prague. If you have any suggestions for those place, please email me at the address listed here on the side. I’d so appreciate it!

  17. Monica, I love your painting of the girl! You are talented. Art is very important to me too, originally because my father was a painter. His work, along with his brother’s and best friend’s stuff were all over our walls. (You might want to check out Charles White, if you don’t know him–that was Dad’s friend.) I, however was never particularly good at art, though I enjoyed it. Lately it is more important to me because art seems to be my daughter’s THING. We stand in awe of the stuff she creates. Relatives give her books about Georgia O’keefe and Matisse and Picasso, etc. (My son loves it too, but mostly draws exploding spaceships!).

    I am an admirer who can spend half an hour staring at a painting, trying to figure out what was going on for the artist. For example, the look in the eye of the girl you painted–so intriguing! I can’t help wondering: is she you? 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Lisa. How lovely that art is in your blood, too. I hope you can share some of your father’s paintings in your blog sometime. I will definitely google Charles White to see his work. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Oh and regarding the girl in my painting, no she isn’t me. She was a model in my class. I usually tended to paint these models from a safe, unattached distance. But this time, I felt like getting up close and personal with the portrait, she practically takes up the entire canvas, and it turned out to be one of my favorite pieces from those times.

  18. Monica, I do good to draw stick people, but I love the idea of art! The colors, the textures, the form, the feelings good art evokes. Maybe that’s why I bead jewelry. I used to wish I could wile away the hours with paints and an easel, but, because I have so little gift in that area, I turned to writing (and found there the inner satisfaction that makes me ME!) But you’re right — I, too, can’t imagine a world where art is suppressed or eliminated.

  19. Far too many children are so completely insulated from art. History and geography as well. Well to get right down to it I don’t think 2/3 of my 11th graders ever read a book cover to cover.

    • Carl, I’m sorry to hear that. What a shame. And to think, my public school experience inspired me to love art, history and reading. Math and science? Let’s just say, they’re not my strong point. 😉

  20. I don’t have the ability to draw, but I appreciate having colorful art in my environment. My favorite art and photographs are usually inspired by the natural world. Those images spark my imagination and give me a boost of both energy and creativity. It’s almost as good as actually being in a natural space. Once those beautiful places are captured on film or canvas, I can keep them with me.

    • Shary, I surround my computer and desk area with art, so when I have a lull in thought, I can gaze upon them and find peace. At which time, my mind clears and new ideas to write about pop in!

  21. One of my fondest pleasures since I moved back to D.C. has been to take the Metro to the National Mall and spend the afternoon (free admission!) at the Smithsonian, especially the National Gallery of Art, where currently there’s a large exhibit of Joan Miro’s paintings and drawings. There’s also floor after floor of works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Picasso, Dali, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, etc., etc., etc. I can only go for several hours at a time before I feel as if my head will explode, so I keep returning again and again. Someday I might even make it to see the rest of the (free admission!!) Smithsonian (the Hirschhorn, Freer, Renwick, Sackler, etc., etc.).

    • Hey Joe, that was one of my favorite things about D.C. My favorites were the National Gallery and the American History museum (has it re-opened? the last time I was there it was closed for renovations.) As for the National Gallery, I remember being there when the East wing was officially opened. There was such a to-do about I.M. Pei’s work on it. But, still, I love the National Gallery. Such a treasure. Few things are free anymore. Sigh. I sure wish I could go with you.

  22. Interesting post Monica.

    I must admit I am not into paintings, though I do appreciate the work, skill and love that goes into them.

    When I look at a painting I never try and imagine what the artist was thinking because no doubt I would be wrong and people all look at things differently so what I read into something wont be what the artist read into it.

    I love old photographs especially of people. In the days when photography was expensive people took time with every exposure and that shows in their work. These days people just snap away with a digital camera and hope their will be one good one. There is no pride or skill in the art of photography these days.

    When I was young I used to love drawing maps freehand, and remember I did a world map about 15ft across and 10ft high all freehand and in colour. I can’t remember what happened to it I am sorry to say, I put a lot of time and effort into it, all drawn with pencils.

    • Robert, I wouldn’t say there’s no pride or skill in the art of photography today. I love taking pictures and try to do it with a sense of space, perspective and artistic flair. Most are terrible, but you got a take a lot of photos to find a gem. Wow, drawing maps is impressive. Have I told you that my father was a cartographer? Maps are in my blood. 😉

      • I think that today with many photographers what they produce owes more to their skill with a computer than with a camera.
        When out and about I always carry a camera, if you have time take a look at my blog there are some pictures there from the sunshine of last Sunday.
        Maps I used to love to draw as I said and I used to spend hours doing it, I always found it very relaxing.
        I can’t draw people or buildings though I can never get the perspective right especially with buildings.
        Never commented on the picture you painted, most remiss of me, it’s really nice there is a background but it does not draw you away from the subject and it’s one I would put on my wall certainly. You have hidden talents there Monica!!!

      • Robert, I’m blown away by all the compliments about my art. Thank you so much! What an honor to know that you’d be willing to hang it in your home. Maybe I can exhibit it and send it around to different homes where it could hang for a month and then move on to its next location. People would flock to see it when it arrived in their neighborhood. There’d be a cue out your door…Oh well, a girl can dream, right? At least, it’s good for a laugh. I’ll be checking out your blog soon, my friend.

    • Well, I’m so glad I did inspire you. Be sure to let me know when you post it. Would love to find out about your family’s talent! And, thank you for stopping by. I love comments!

  23. Unfortunately, not much 😦
    It’s not that i don’t appreciate it. I can look at a painting and feel I become part of it and “live it”. i love to see sculptures, to listen to music, all kinds of art, but i am not good at any of those and I have no knowledge about any. I think that art is an important part of the education as kids, and since we didn’t have a normal childhood, we skipped that part whether it was at school or at home.

    • Nikky, I recommend exploring museum websites and look at all kinds of art. I bet there is one piece out there that will resonate for you. Art can speak to us in a way that words cannot. There is so much beauty out there and it is up to us to find it. Stay well, my friend.

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