Living as Art

Last summer, when I visited a museum and saw Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Women Crossing the Fields for the first time in person, I felt a tug of recognition.  It wasn’t just that I had previously seen reproductions of this work, but I felt I had seen it in life itself.

It took me a few minutes to realize Van Gogh’s stunning oil on paper (pictured in my photo below, with unfortunate reflections marring its actual beauty) reminded me of the photograph above which I had taken three years earlier in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

van gogh, dutch, Women Crossing the Fields 1890, oil on paper

After I arrived home from the museum, I searched and found the photo on my computer, which I had labeled “The Girls Running Through the Squash Field”.

I like the connections between my own picture and Van Gogh’s painting: the repeated colors, the direction and movement of the female figures, the similarity between title and label.

Perhaps when I took the photo, I unconsciously imitated Van Gogh’s painting, with which I was vaguely familiar.  If so, no matter.

What I like is the reminder that art often enhances our personal memories and the meanings they carry.  Picasso said art washes “the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Women Crossing the Fields now will hold the added dimension of reminding me of my friends Manuel and Andrea, whose daughters run through the field of my photo.  It will remind me of their remarkable warmth, graciousness, and generosity, displayed in their friendliness to me and in the gentle caretaking of their daughters and of their aging parents.

Another art and life connection came my way last week, also here in Baja where we often visit.

Two years ago, Victor, a local artist who works in multiple media, was supposed to make me a carved iguana similar to a larger one I had seen displayed by his beautiful wife Celene at a market.  We failed to make connections before our departure for the United States, however, and I was sorry for the mix-up.  So this year when we returned, I sought him out and asked him to make another one.

When my husband and I visited Victor’s home in the mountains to pick up this piece, carved, he told us, from white oak wood harvested from a naturally downed tree on his property, Victor, as always, warmly greeted us with his trademark smile.  We visited at length inside the home he had built himself, sitting in chairs around his kitchen table, all of which he had crafted by hand, before going outside to see the carving.

On the way, we tarried in the courtyard, chatting. Then Victor gently turned my face towards the view of the nearby palm-filled arroyo and quietly, almost reverently, said, “Here is the natural one.” This is what I saw in his courtyard, posing on the limb of a huge 500-year-old white oak tree:

life iguana copy

iguana on 500 year old white oak tree, La Huerta

When I return to my Texas hill country home, situated on a bluff above a stream named White Oak Creek, I will have this lovely carving, whose iguana mimics perfectly the way the “natural one” visually melted into the wood:

iguana copy

And I will smile often when I see it, a tangible reminder of the connections between art and life, a reminder that living with joy and with kindness is an art itself.



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Two years ago, I wrote about Victor and other creative artists here:

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Writing Practice:

Have you viewed works of art with recognition from your own life?

Describe someone you know who artfully lives with joy and kindness.  (For extra credit, send this description to him or her.)

14 thoughts on “Living as Art

  1. Thank you for the images and imaginings. Your post came at a time for me when it was necessary for ‘the dust of daily life’ to be gently dropped and allowed to dissolve away from what is a light and joyful soul re-emerging. I wish you well.

    • Thank you, Gerri. I so appreciate your reading and taking the time to reply, and I’m sending you best wishes as well. See you back home in the hill country before long–in time for spring cleaning, both metaphorical and actual. 🙂

  2. Beautiful Chris, I have missed your Practicing Wonder Posts, so glad you are posting again, you have a gift for making us all see the wonders of life!!

  3. I guess seeing Monet”s gardens unchanged from the time of his paintings was like a time machine to allow me to contrast his work and the land that inspired him. In the painting I get to know both his vision of his garden and what I experience. Wonderful to hold both and know each is valid. And to know more to have his vision to add to mine. I smile when I recall his saying his creation in his garden came closer to capturing his art than his painting!

    • I love Monet’s garden paintings, and how I would love to see his gardens. His comments remind me that every creative thing we do is part of the art of living our lives. I’m glad you wrote this, and thank you!

  4. oh my Chris! I have missed your writing so much! your new carving will be a beautiful to your home! can’t wait to see it!!

  5. It is so good to see your writing again! I have missed this connection with you! My favorite Van Gogh painting is ‘Starry Night,’ reminding me of being out in the darkness of the Canyon and watching the beautiful stars shining so brightly! There is a huge replica of ‘Starry Night’ I pass every day in the hallway to my office and it always makes me smile; much like your Practicing Wonder!

    • I love that painting as well. Years ago I saw it at the Metropolitan Museum and still recall spontaneous tears coming to my eyes. That was one of the first times I realized the impact of seeing original art in person. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Cathy. 🙂

  6. Chris, the first time I read this I thought, oh how nice, was the Van Gogh at the McNey? The second time I read this, I was overwhelmed by a flood of emotion and ideas on many levels & in many directions, coming faster than I can write. You are appreciated.

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