This is a print that hangs in my bathroom. I bought it in a museum gift shop years ago. And last night, while I was putting myself together for a night on the town, I realized I never really looked at the print from an analysis standpoint (and being an art history minor in college, this surprised me). But I guess it was something I just overlooked during its purchase, and the overall arrangement of the three artists engaged in the act of painting—how they are positioned one in front of the other—got me thinking about some things.
The process of art is not just creating something from nothing, but it is also being perceptive of what others around you are creating and how they influence your work. I know writers who won’t read fiction if they are working on a project in narrative fiction, because they are so worried that their voice will begin to sound like what they’ve just read. And as ego-driven beings, we all want to be singular and individualized, and our art untainted by the elephants of opinion and aesthetics. We are stargazers with a couple hang-ups when it comes to being grounded.
For me, it’s more of a matter of rhythm. If I am reading material, whether it’s poetry or fiction, my brain subconsciously picks up on the “beats” in the writing. So, when I go and put my pen to paper, I’m already vibrating on a dial of particular cadence—rolling, or frenzied, or stuttered. That’s how I learned to write poetry, at the tender age of 9, when I would pour over my mother’s library of Yeats and Tennyson and Frost (discovering the romanticism of it all), and the feminist voices of Atwood and Piercy and Walker. Then later on, at the appropriate age, I was introduced to the lyrical violence of Bukowski and Rimbaud, and the sensual Neruda and Cummings. Reading poetry was like listening to records on vinyl— the effect was immediate to my viscera, like an extra shot of dopamine to the brain. Something was triggered inside of me, and instead of humming along like you would a catchy tune, I needed to write it out until the feeling and drive dissipated, or would be taken up anew with another hook.
So, that’s what Homer Winslow’s Artists Sketching in the White Mountains summons up for me—the power of influence, not necessarily of collaboration (which I am also a proponent of, as well), but “the others” and outliers and the incidental persons who make their way onto your radar, when you’re trying to forge ahead yourself. It tells me it’s time to pay more attention.