The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Today, we have one hour to tour an art museum. Let’s get started.
I pay for one hour of parking, climb steps, and walk past concrete columns into the sunlit marble floored foyer. How much can I see in an hour without sprinting?
I’m speed dating the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts (known as the Cantor Arts Center) at Stanford University.
I walk past “Palo Alto Spring, ” a large painting of the Leland Stanford family. A young girl wearing a white dress holds a croquet mallet. A large farmhouse looms in the background. Leland Stanford and his wife sit regally on chairs, presiding over a group of adults who lounge in the grass—women in delicate pastel summer dresses and men in dark suits. I wonder what it would be like to play croquet on the Stanford’s lush, verdant lawn as sunlight shines upon the family and its guests like a benediction.
Outside an exhibit of French drawings hangs a wall-sized modern art oil painting. A quick glance makes me think of Picasso, and I realize I’d like to take an art history class.
I turn and see a bright, pastel bust—a self-portrait of the artist, who based it on a sketch his son made while the artist and his wife were in marital crisis. Light green snot drips out of his nose. A gun suspended mid-air points at his head with a little white explosion cloud situated between the gun and the red bloody mass oozing from a hole in his head. The eyes look like sunken souffles. A long-handled knife plunges into his neck. Blood seeps from the wound. The cartoonish sculpture makes me sad. I think of how many comedians with difficult back stories choose to laugh instead of cry.
I walk through the exhibit of French drawings—detailed line sketches—and learn a sketch on blue paper is expensive and used by an artist to attract a patron. I notice inaccuracies in a Bible story sketch that conflate the narrative. My breathing slows.
Next I wander into a large sunlit room with a dome roof. I see several Rodin sculptures. I learn although “The Kiss” is popular with many, it is not a favorite of Rodin, as he considered it ordinary. In “The Kiss, ” a woman faces a man whose left arm and hand support her head, while his right arm drapes around her bare left hip. She reclines slightly on her right side, and he leans over her as they kiss. I do not have a trained sculptor’s eye, but I sense tenderness.
“The Thinker, ” one of Rodin’s most iconic bronze sculptures, sits in the rotunda’s center. I gaze up at his massive feet and large face, his chin resting in the curled fingers of his fist. It was originally named “The Poet.” The placard suggests Rodin wanted “The Thinker” to be muscular, to outwardly exhibit the hard work of true mental exercise.
Next I examine a small study made of two entwined figures representing Lust and Avarice for Rodin’s “Gates Of Hell” in a case of smaller clay figurines. Further away, a mid-sized sculpture of a sitting woman makes me stop. Her breasts are shriveled and deflated; her face, folded with wrinkles, looks down. The sculpture “She Who Was the Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife” (1885-87) caused great controversy when shown. Then, as now, we like to pretend time and gravity will not etch our soul-tents.
I read: “To those that complained the figure was ugly, Rodin responded, ‘In Art, what is false, what is artificial, what seeks to be pretty…instead of being expressive…is ugly…For the artist worthy of his name, everything is beautiful in Nature.'”
My phone rings a ten-minute warning, and I am Cinderella as the clock chimes midnight.
Before leaving, I dash upstairs to a small alcove-like room and find Matisse’s “Jazz.” Bedridden and unable to paint or sculpt, Matisse cut out “forms from colored papers that he arranged as collages…most of which were based on circus or theather themes.” The bright bold colors and cutouts reveal a man full of creativity and joy despite physical limitations. My soul feels lighter as I study the cutout of a horse and the graphic blues, reds, blacks, and greens pop against white paper.
I turn to leave, my hour feeling like a bright cutout in the day’s collage.
Read a poem a day, become a better poet.