The Influence of Art

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

The three of us are currently going through a sort of poetic exercise where we discuss our impressions of the various words we've struggled to define. Last week, we covered beauty. Masha's impressions included this revealing and fascinating idea (explained more fully in her post):
For the most part, I try to live what many people consider a life of impractical priorities.

Whereas Mr. Pond ended his thoughts with a short piece of fiction, a hauntingly lovely scene between a young Edvard Grieg and the older, more experienced Franz Liszt.
Imagine, if you will, the tableau of the two musicians standing at the piano. They are in the salon, a high-ceilinged room redolent of the era, the curtains heavy, the carpet lush, the great piano forte in the centre of the room.  The scribbled bits of foolscap are spread across it....

You should really read the whole thing. It's not the first time I've thought my critique partner had a genius for the short story form.

This week's word: art.

* * *

Red Scarf and Blue Jeans by Anne Olwin. Source.
At the word art, I think first of my mother. When my sisters and I were very small, Mom dragged Dad over to a watercolor on a friend's wall and said "If I could just do that!..." Shortly thereafter, Dad bought her paints and brushes and six weeks of lessons from the artist. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with the teacher's young sons in the Florida sunshine while Mom learned to paint.

I grew up tracing Mom's pieces and then drawing my own, learning from her about perspective and foreshortening and light and shadow. And I grew up with her aphorisms: "What's in your heart will come out in your art." "Half of learning how to draw is learning how to see." "You don't have to draw a cross to make Christian art."

Early on, of course, I had different ideas for pencil and paper. The art teacher's oldest son, whom I reverenced, was the first to let me know that it was not normal to narrate my existence out loud. "She walked down the hall and turned on the light," I'd say, as I did just that. And he said "All you ever say is she, she, she."

"No, it's not all I say."

"Yes it is! You just said it. She did this, she did that. She, she, she."

That's how much reading and writing was a part of my life, even at five or six. I went from Curious George to Billy and Blaze to Little House on the Prairie, and read a set of the latter books to pieces. My own first stories were made of sheets of paper stapled into manila folders. They were entirely plotless. But they started me toward a lifetime of learning to write prose—which, under the influence of my mom's self-taught piano and guitar playing, later branched into music and lyrics as well.

Dress by Mom, flowers by Beth, veil by Mom and I
Photo by Casey Karbowski

Other influences have helped form my understanding and working out of art. For instance, the move beyond Christian pop music to country, then rock and singer/songwriter sounds, then the Celtic Women and popera. Or the way John Granger and Travis Prinzi have taught me to look at story and literature, via Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, and others. And the way the Catholic Church integrates art into worship.

But not one influence has done more to shape me as an artist than my first and best teacher. Art is a way of life in my mother's house. For us, it has been the planting of roses and Canterbury bells, the hanging of sheer curtains and the four-step painting of walls. Mom's work displayed around the house, and her classes in the living room. Dad building grape arbors and hammering roses out of metal. One sister's photography and another's skill with food presentation. Me with Mom's old guitar, in a chair in the corner. Mom and my sisters and friends and I designing and producing the family weddings—dresses, cakes, flowers, music, hair and makeup, favors.

Today, for every member of my family, it is the way we look at life and try to express it through our chosen media.

Antique Roses in Pink and White by Anne Olwin. Source.
Art never seems far from me now. It's in bookshelves and arias, dreams of gardening, and in wondering whether I can cut and hem my red and gold curtains to fit our new living room windows. And it's with me as I shape every phrase, every nuance of character in my beloved little books. I'll echo Masha here: I love my life.


  1. I tried to post earlier and messed up on the actual posting part..but I love your mini-family history here, its fantastic. I had a great time reading it..I kept picturing such nice images of a home with brushes scattered, nooks to write in, lots of light, and fresh flowers everywhere - sort of idealistic I'm sure. :)

  2. Thanks, Masha! It was several different houses, actually, ranging from a huge old suburban Victorian to a half-finished pole structure in the middle of nowhere to a quaint and tiny cottage on a very busy street. Some of them had more light and nooks than others, but brushes were quite often scattered in the art areas, and Mom did like to keep a lot of fresh flowers in the house when they were available. :)


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