As I looked out from the Jacuzzi this morning, I saw (gasp) color in the trees! Fall has come to Florida at last. Only four months later than down east, and ever so subtle, with a very restricted color range. However, the live oak leaves have begun falling, letting in a little more of the precious light, and on a gloomy day in January (which we have much more than sunny), every bit of color is enhanced. The garden is very Watteau-like…that silvery, elusive rococo wistfulness and nostalgia.
Oh, that’s my theme today. One of the questions I used to ask my students was “does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?”–in regard to this particular period and style. “The look” has always been important in any era, and still is. What’s left of “fashion,” diversified and commercialized in the extreme, proves that. It’s like the “ripped” knee in jeans. As I watched a bicyclist in a part of Tampa that is not our area which I call Mercedes and Maserati land, I pondered how one would go about making that rip in the denim. Would you start with a razor, scissors, or what? Hey, this is ‘hands on,” and will take some physical effort! I am a people-watcher, and notice the parade of people and cars (mostly–to walk in Tampa is quite dangerous as the papers indicate, with daily fatalities). But, I do digress…although I could give you a great analysis of what joggers in our neighborhood wear, as I see from the daily drives to keep the batteries and vital juices of the Rolls-Royces working and flowing.
The garden is a paradigm and an oxymoron as well. Observe the photo of the toile fabrics that may be found throughout our home and studio. Ah, the quaint peasants washing their laundry in the picturesque brook, the mill, the ladder “artfully” propped against the tree. It is so bucolic and refined, so beautiful. Jill and I modeled our garden to approximate this mythic, utopian loveliness. I watched the gardeners in Paris trim, and carried those ideas back to Tampa. The hand carved antique limestone statues “cemented” that look when they came to live with us. But it has not been a bed of roses. In fact, after two years of roses in the center, today they have almost disappeared. The state of the garden is really a disaster, and I’m afraid there is little I can do to restore it after quite a few years of negligence, flooding, and an enlarged canopy of monstrous oaks and palms. In Florida, every inch of outdoor space wants to revert to jungle the minute you turn your back…trust me.
“Cinema Verite” was big (and French) when I was in high school and college. but I am of the opinion that unvarnished life is often unaesthetic and barbaric as well. Hence the reason of being an artist and poet. Why else? Hopefully art and poetry raise the level of consciousness to something higher and more spiritualized than dirt and grit.
Well, guess what? A garden is all about dirt and grit, and painting is all about messy paint and constant cleaning of brushes and tools–kind of like a colorful auto repair shop. I can get quite hostile when I hear people comment: “oh, you must have so much fun doing art…it must be such good therapy and help you relax!” B.S, if you know what I mean. Have you ever heard anyone say to a lawyer or a doctor, “is this what you do for fun!” The naked truth is that nothing is accomplished without effort, physical and mental. Thinking is foundational, but the manifestation of the concept takes action!
On the other side of the coin is the fact that God does not, as Einstein said, “play at dice.” Whether we are working in higher mathematics or our garden, there are laws and powers so far beyond what we seem to know or imagine. Humility is the acknowledgment of this, and often opens doors of perception. Gratitude for all we have and have been shown paves the way to greater things.
I am working on the garden here before we hit summer again in a month or so. Any vines I haven’t crawled down and pulled up will burst into new energy and spread like wildfire. Weeds and errant palms need to be pulled and dug up. But somehow, there is still a beauty which is hinted at. Do we look at the glass half empty–or half full? Let us count our blessings, thankfully and with heart-felt appreciation!