It’s that time again when the ArtSmart Roundtable writes about a designated topic each month. This month is Art That Inspires… A rather open ended topic that I’ve struggled with this past month. From political coups and revolutions to lust and love, art can inspire its onlooker in many ways. I’ve thought about how art has influenced me and has stirred my passions which brought me to my selected topic this month – How art has inspired my own journeys and travels around the world.
To read my fellow ArtSmart writers’ interpretations of Art That Inspires see the bottom of this post.
I’m not as well traveled as some of my companions within the ArtSmart Travel Roundtable but I have been places that I’ve wanted to go since I was a kid. My mom, an aspiring artist who would study at the prestigious Emily Carr British Columbian art school, was my first influence that brought art within the home. I would sit along side her as she studied by correspondence, listening to her work critiqued by her professor on a cassette tape. The whole family would join in to help her create her next project wether it be watercolours, portraiture, or even food platting. I remember being dazzled by the way the watercolours bled into each other, seeing that drawings were just one line at a time to create an entire picture, even learning that food is more than the ingredients it’s also the balance of colours and structure upon the plate.
Sixteen years later, while in University, I was wandering aimlessly between potential majors. I had entered University thinking I could become a Psychologist but the idea of requiring chemistry was off-putting, so I switched to International Relations but writing was always calling to me. I wanted to write but about what? My panache for both fiction and non-fiction hadn’t developed yet as an inexperienced 24 year old. It wasn’t until I was working my way through second year art history when a professor returned my exam to me encouraging, “You know your stuff. Are you looking to major in Art History?”
I knew I loved art history and my grades were great but to major in art history? And it did make sense. It was the one class that was like a break, an easy A for me where all I had to do was listen and imagine what the artists’ life was like in context in order to determine why they painted what and how they did. I was learning about artists who had lived a life and had stories to tell through their work.
As soon as I realized this I figured out my major, in fact I decided to major in both Creative Writing and Art History. Not the most practical of majors if you ask my grandparents but it has shaped this blog and my passion for travel, in essence it has shaped my pursuit to tell stories.
When I first encountered J.M.W. Turner’s work, especially his Venetian paintings, I was floored. Turner, a poet at heart – something we have in common – often poetically named his work. I was struggling for inspiration in poetry classes, a requirement, when my art history professor sent over an e-mail about a study abroad course. I seized the opportunity to travel. I remember sitting in her office as she sputtered off places to see and eat. When she spoke of Venice she spoke nostalgically and lovingly like it was an old friend of hers. Of course it was, she had lived there for a few years and came to know the ins and outs of her maze-like streets and the contours of the canal.
I hadn’t thought of visiting Venice until this point. All it takes is that one person to open up a door to an idea for you and the rest is history.
I had only come to know Venice through the misty water-colour like paintings by Turner. When I arrived in Venice I understood why Turner painted the city so much. To my chagrin Venice still looks the same as his when Turner visited. To this day, Venice is now an old friend of mine as well as Turner’s.
Who hasn’t seen the works of Impressionists depicting fleeting Paris and desired to walk those same streets? Monet, Caillebotte, Hassam, Degas, Renoir and many others have all depicted classic Paris as we have come to know her through their vision. The private scenes of a young ballet dancer in a cobalt blue dress, a boisterous Summer picnic, a flaneur wandering the rainy streets – all these images now render almost cliché because they are the Paris of all our dreams.
I don’t think there’s a person out there who hasn’t been touched in some emotional sense by a film. I have always had a passion for movies and television from both the past and present. Wether it is Judy Garland singing the Trolley Song or Leonardo DiCaprio losing it on screen in a fit of rage my taste in movies have always been diverse. I celebrate the Oscars like it was a national holiday and I dig in to the talents behind cinematography, screenwriting and costume design. I love it all. So when I finally got the chance to go to L.A. I was star stuck. Not because I saw a star – unless you count Fabio and the moustachioed portly porn star Ron Jeremy – but because at the time I was into the idea of becoming a screenwriter. I wanted to be a lot of things as you might have noticed.
I had only written two short screenplays by this time one of which was set in L.A. and took place at a dive bar called Power House. I only knew about it by Googling “Dive bars L.A.” and it was the first to come up. No one understood the screenplay about a group of impersonators ending their day still dressed as Marilyn, Chaplin and Spiderman at the PowerHouse.
“Do they really dress up in front of the…what’s it called, Chinese Theatre?” I knew then that my screenplay was not only missing direction but also an informed audience in that second year Creative Writing class.
During my visit to L.A. only one year later I found myself looking out of my hotel’s restaurant window to see the Power House glowing in neon lights. Excitedly, my dad and I found ourselves stumbling into the smelly, deteriorating bar with vinyl tiles dangling from the ceiling and a bearded bar tender who asked us if we needed directions.
We didn’t fit in but it was a lot of fun to hear the bartender’s stories of what this place was in its glory days with the Beatles having sat at this booth and the riffraff he has encountered over the years. It is considered Hollywood’s last true dive bar but this summer it is undergoing a renovation which some think will ruin its grit.
I am now 27 years old and I have loved Frank Sinatra since I first heard his music which I think was around the age of twelve. I was not a normal kid according to my family and the kids I grew up with. Of course, Sinatra’s song “New York” had me convinced I had to go and so I did at the age of 25. I made my way over the Brooklyn Bridge where I ate a pizza at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria where Frank photos were hung upon the walls as an honorary customer at one time in his life. The pizza was overrated but New York was certainly not.
So now, here I am at a crossroads. Where to next? I don’t have an answer and that scares me. I want to go anywhere and everywhere but where do I start? Instead of looking to art as I have all these years for must-go places I now find myself looking to my family history. Call me sentimental and yes nostalgic too but I find myself wanting to walk on the same streets my great grandfather did while he served in WWII – Belgium, Germany, France (again). Or maybe I want to check out all those old manors that used to be in the family in Great Britain but somehow didn’t get passed down to me. Or maybe I want to find out what Kiev is like 100 years after my great grandparents left (or maybe not right now…).
I am a little lost but in a good way with the comfort of knowing that I still want to go…somewhere.
How do you decide where you go next?