Friday, March 6, 2009


March 6, 2009 perspective

Legend has it that the valley of the Great Salt Lake was known by ancient Indian tribes as the Valley of Smoke. Fog would rise from the lake and surrounding areas, held to the ground by inversions that were the result of air flow from the ring of mountains surrounding the lake. When the pioneers got here it became a true valley of smoke as the settlers used soft smelted coal to heat their homes. The rising smoke got stuck in the bowl of air that swirled in that same mountain basin. Nowadays it’s the exhaust from cars and the residue from refineries that make us have to strain to see lights in the distance. Tonight, however, as Dave and I drove home from Salt Lake City, the air was remarkably clear. We could see all the way out to the copper mines and the Oquirrh Mountain range to the west. To the east the Bountiful temple looked like, if we rolled down the van window and reached out, we could pluck it off the side of the foothill where it stands. Its white marble reflected in the moonlight, making it look like a glass nightlight we might have purchased at Deseret Book and plugged into our car. It was so clear, but it was also so far that it seemed it would fit in the palm of my hand. Relatively speaking, it was the size of the moon. Logic tells me that the temple is massively larger than a nightlight, and that the moon is massively larger than the temple. Without perspective they all fit together in the same little jewelry box in my mind.
Perspective requires a few things. I learned these things at the art classes Libby and I took every Saturday morning at the Carnegie Museum in Oakland PA. Perspective involves a point of view; a vantage point. It requires an origination point, where the eye of the observer is; and at least one vanishing point, where the observer can no longer see, past the horizon. Mr. Fitzpatrick stood in the front of 200 students from various schools in the Pittsburgh area. He placed one dot on the paper with his long paintbrush, then another on the opposite half of the sheet. “Here,” he said in that large Irish American voice, slightly graying in its timbre like the color of his hair, “is the corner of the barn.” He painted a long black line down the middle of the page. “This dot is your left vanishing point, and this other is your right” He proceeded to paint lines between the dots and the corner of the barn, adding more lines in perpendiculars and parallels, until there was a stunning arrangement of triangles out of which a barn emerged, looking for all the world like the real thing. This was not the barn of my childhood, a rectangle with a triangle on top. This felt correct because it understood and incorporated perspective. It was remarkable to me, and quite empowering. The other day I showed Sophie how to draw a house using perspective and, much to my surprise, it seemed logical to her. She has the soul of an artist, and the eyes of a painter.
I ended up, after years of Saturday art school, getting on enough honor rolls to receive a recommendation to the Carnegie Mellon School of Art. But I am not an artist. Not the kind that can draw very well, at least. The reason they called my name out for the honor roll every other Saturday was because I knew what I did not know, and I stayed away from it. What I could do…well, I used it. What got me recognition was not the science of my art, it was the creativity of my pieces. I had to compensate for not being very technically gifted, so I sketched and painted unique and symbolic pieces that caught the eye of our professors. The class is assigned to paint a self portrait…, I do mine as if I am looking into the scoop of a spoon. Everyone looks askew in the reflection of a spoon! That’s how I made it work. Even in my youth I knew I was getting away with something, that I was faking that I belonged in a room full of true artists with talent and skill. I wish I had listened more; that I had tried harder to do what they taught us and not what made me appear unique. Though I may not know exactly how to use perspective to interpret a scene on paper, I did learn that perspective is part of every realistic artistic work. The lesson bled over into my songwriting…into my parenting…into my personal life story, still being written. I am grateful to know about it, even if I do not fully understand it.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your writing because i learn new things- like about the Valley of Smoke. It makes perfect sense. And you are totally deserving of any honors you received because really, if you ask any artist (like i know THAT many...) but they would say that the way you look at things differently- your unique perspective- is what makes you an artist. In my years of painting and my college attempt at pottery, I coompleted every assignment exactly as taught with no creative genius (and I was rewarded with Bs) I think that you are definately one of the most creative, artistic people I know and you should be proud of that. (and Sophie too)