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.
Image by Thomas Hawk. Used with permission. Post by Dolly Lee.
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- Regional Tour: The Getty Center in Los Angeles - November 6, 2015
- Regional Tour: A Glimpse of Yosemite - August 14, 2015
- Literary Tour: Mariposa Museum & History Center - May 20, 2015
Nancy Franson says
I visited Paris with my daughter a couple of years ago after she’d completed a semester abroad. Let me tell you, that girl can speed date a museum like no one I’ve ever seen. I had purchased a book of museum passes, and it was tricky working out the timing because certain museums were only open certain days. When we got to the Musée de l’Orangerie a half hour before it closed, and were told we needed at least forty-five minutes to tour it, my daughter said, “No problem. I’ve got this.”
She also got us through the Louvre, I believe, in record time–having researched all the highlights and >must see exhibits. Still, my feet hurt from all the walking. The Louvre would take a lifetime, I think, to explore.
Loved your trip through arts center. Even though it was quick, it seems you slowed enough to see and drink in quite a bit. I think I, too, would have wanted to play croquet on that lush, verdant lawn 🙂
Wow, Nancy, I am impressed with you and your daughter’s speed dating abilities. And I agree, I think the Louvre would take a lifetime to explore. Thanks for speed dating the Cantor Arts Center with me 🙂
Elizabeth W. Marshall says
Dolly, this is rich and dense like Godiva chocolate. Every bite of every line worth savoring, sucking, lingering. You know my heart raced with you in your telling.
I love so much about this, but one of the things I love the most is that show us how much richer our writing and our lives are when we spend even one hour well. One hour focused. One hour invested.
You poured so much detail into this. Thank you taking us along. This is very very fine writing my dear friend. I love your voice and you.
You are speaking my language: dark chocolate 🙂 Thank you for your kind encouragement and for racing along with me, my sweet friend 🙂
Sandra Heska King says
Oh wow, Dolly! Reading this was a bright cutout in my morning’s collage! I sprint-lingered with you in this place and feel like I just experienced my own artist’s date here at my table. Love the thoughts that tumbled from each piece of art. Like Elizabeth, I love your voice and you.
I love how you make up descriptive words: “sprint-lingered,” I may have to steal that one, while giving you credit of course 🙂 Thank you for sprint-lingering with me on my artist date, my encouraging friend 🙂
Monica Sharman says
Did someone say Godiva chocolate?
Dolly, I love this. Thank you for teaching me that “The Thinker” was originally “The Poet,” and that Rodin made him muscular for that reason.
Is chocolate your language also?
As a poet yourself, did you realize you are more “muscular” than you know? Thanks for being here 🙂
Ann Kroeker says
Dolly, your speed date of this museum is a reminder that the Artist Date doesn’t have to take all day or even all afternoon to feed your creativity. Look what your brief visit did for you? It gave you this wonderful recap that you could create and share with us, along with a wonderful feeling at the end, that this outing was a bright cutout in an otherwise ordinary day.
Next time I’m near something that might feed my creativity and I only have a limited amount of time, I’m going to remember that you hit some highlights in one short hour, and I’m going to just pull the car over and drop in.
You make me happy thinking that you will stop and feed your creativity next time, even if you only have a short window of time 🙂 Thanks for all of your encouragement 🙂
Maureen Doallas says
I love that you ended your visit with the Jazz cut-outs, which are so lush in color and so full of vitality. “My curves are not crazy,” Matisse said. Indeed, they speak to that deep well of creative expression that Matisse brilliantly let fly in the last years of his life.
Thanks for sharing the Matisse quote…yes, creativity with curves is definitely not crazy 🙂
Being intentional even if rushed pays huge dividends. I’m inspired to do the same. I don’t have much of an eye for art, but I appreciate other’s talents and passions. Thanks for sharing yours.
Thanks for taking the time to share in my visit…it makes me smile to think that you are inspired to be intentional with your talents and interests 🙂
Diana Trautwein says
What a lovely, beautifully descriptive tour, Dolly. Thank you so much. I’ve briefly been on the Stanford campus, but never to the art museum. Adding that one to my list, I think. I loved looking at it all through your artist’s eye. Thank you.
Oh, definitely visit the Cantor Arts Center the next time you are up here…thanks for being here…appreciate it 🙂
Karen Hansen says
Bravo, Dolly! Your talent grows by leaps and bounds!
I don’t know what to say, other than “thank you,” my dear friend, and I must give credit to Ann for her editorial help…thank you for your encouragement over the years…deeply appreciative.