So we beat on, boats against the current, ceaselessly into the past, so says Nick Carraway recalling Jay Gatsby’s faith in a future that will bring him his dream, Daisy Buchanan and everything she stands for. We are all Gatsby’s muse, longing for a far away ship that will carry us to our promised land.
The land is not enough, it represents the past or the present. The future is the ship on the vast ocean blue that represents our hopes and dreams.
Sitting on the porch at day’s end viewing the sun glinting off the ocean, my wife said, This is what vacations in Maine are for, and I replied, completing her thought, absolutely nothing, to sit and Think of things that matter not and mean everything.
I confess that I am torn between twin desires – I love to travel, I love to stay at home. We travel, some of us, forever seeking other places, other lives, and other like-minded souls, and yet, we always long to return home, to be alone.
As the Russian ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) in Grand Hotel (1932) said, “I want to be alone.”
I am on this kick right now of looking for unusual things in out of the way places. You don’t have to look hard. You just have to see with your eyes and your soul. Saper vedere, Leonardo da Vinci called it. Knowing how to see, but that doesn’t seem quite right. How do we know that which we have never seen?
Sure there are many wonderful works of art adorning the great museums of the world, many grand structures that are admired, but sometimes it is the little thing in a humble place that catches the eyes and captures the spirit. A flower in a field of green, a feather floating on the water, the smile on the face of a child when you’re feeling sad. All of these things are as beautiful as the Mona Lisa hanging on a wall in the Louvre.
Let us go to Dallas.
Bishop Arts is an entertainment district in Oak Cliff, across the Trinity River from downtown Dallas. It is centered on the intersection of Bishop and Davis Streets. Thank goodness the mass retailers and chains have not yet arrived. For now it is a thriving cauldron of entrepreneurship, restaurants, bars, pie shops, boutiques, antique stores, and even a foot massage.
Changes are on the horizon. To the south a large development is going in. This may change the flavor of Bishop Arts, but one hopes not. Parking will become an issue and the homeowners who share the area with the retailers will rue the day Bishop Arts became a happening place.
Across the street on the corner from the new development is an old house. It is the eye in the hurricane, a place of serenity. For the time being, it is an impressionist’s work of art, a humble place, and thing of beauty. Why someone even thought of adding a picnic table and a tire swing for passersby to enjoy.
Where do ideas come from? Who is inspired to take an old house and make it a work of art? A combination of Camille Pissaro and Henri Matisse.
Camille Pissaro (1830-1903) was one of the Impressionists, one of the oldest who came to his style late in life at the age of 54. His comment to a friend was,”my painting doesn’t catch on, not at all …” Born in St. Thomas in the Caribbean, he lived for a time in England before returning to France, the home of his father. There he painted both rural and city scenes, concentrating on the lives of ordinary people.
Blessed are they who see beauty in little things in humble places when others see nothing. Camille Pissaro
A house, destined to be torn down for redevelopment becomes a work of art. A door, an imaginary entrance to something new and different. “X’s” and “O’s” become shapes and colors filling the canvas and inspiring the viewer.
His advice to a young painter:
Don’t work bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere… The eye should not be fixed on a particular point but should take in everything, while simultaneously observing the reflections that the colors produce on their surroundings. Keep everything going on an equal basis; use small brushstrokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately. Do not proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel.
His paintings today sell for millions.
Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in the north of France in a weaver’s cottage with a leaky roof. Like Pissarro his aim was always to discover “the essential character of things”. When the younger Matisse was introduced to Pissarro and Matisse showed him his work, he was given the advice:
“Very good my friend you are gifted. Work and don’t listen to anything anyone tells you.”
One wonders what will be in a hundred years, a span of three generations but one lifetime.
What would Elizabeth Bennet have thought of what was to come? As the second daughter of a country gentlemen of limited means and no ambition, Elizabeth could see more clearly than her four sisters. Oh, to be single and a woman of modest income in Victorian England, yet intelligent, lively, attractive and proud is a curse, for one suffers the prejudice of all those who are suitably wealthy, while less intelligent and attractive.
Then again, we are living in the present and the future is too far away. One may fret about today and the next, but not about tomorrow’s tomorrow.