Sometimes authors’ best inspiration comes from works of art. Here’s what I wrote in my novel after viewing artwork on display at the DIA with my six year old granddaughter in tow:
“Grandma, let’s go to the D-I-A.” Saying the letters very slowly and distinctly was Emily’s way of ensuring that Grandma understood she wanted to go to the Detroit Institute of Art. Seeing paintings through the eyes of children was an extraordinary way to break out of one’s personal boundary of the meaning of things, and Janine had a strong sense that this would lead to important insights into her present challenges. With Emily and Nathan in tow, Janine used her camera to capture some of the more interesting and unique art on display at the DIA. She would later transfer these images to her computer, compiling them into a gallery of works for Kirk to leisurely view while recuperating.
“What does this look like to you?” Responding enthusiastically to Grandma’s question, Emily said it was a strange-looking man, looking somewhat like the Rumpelstiltskin of her storybook images, his head all in blue and topped with a torn blue cap. Nathan’s perception was considerably different—he saw a dirt road bounded by trees, and “a blue tornado hanging over the road with a huge mouse jumping out of it.” Emily burst out laughing at his answer, but as the tears began to drip from Nathan’s eyes, their grandma hugged them both and praised them for their creative interpretations—and marveled at being able to see what Nathan saw after he described the painting!
Their next point of interest was a seascape where the artist had graphically drawn a tempestuous scene of a man fallen overboard, his colleagues reaching for him as a shark was making its way, mouth open, toward the helpless man. “What do you think of this picture?” Janine asked the enthralled children. Nathan, always the impetuous one, said he wanted to get in the water and tie up the shark’s mouth so the man would be safe. Emily called the painting cruel and disgusting and demanded they move on quickly or it would cause her to have nightmares.
Finally, they found some artwork that mesmerized both children and grandmother: a virtual dining room table where a hand magically appeared serving food from the multiple platters scattered around the table; when that course was removed another was served…and another and another. While seated around this table, the guests could almost taste the delectable cuisine that was put before them, but it was only virtual reality. What they touched was a tabletop with nothing whatsoever laying on its glass surface.
Another hour of touching, staring, analyzing, meandering or sprinting, and the little ones were growing grumpy. After depositing her tired but happy grandchildren with their parents, Janine went home to ponder the experiences of this delightful day, fully expecting the happy ending—some very good news. There seemed to be a message almost within reach of her conscious mind, and as she sat in her favorite chair—the mauve-colored fifteen-year-old recliner that still cradled her body as lovingly as when she first saved it from the heavy-set would-be buyer who would have surely squashed its springs in months, she let her mind drift.
Janine daydreamed throughout the evening, starting by allowing herself to envision walking into the Swiss clinic, taking Kirk’s hand and kissing his lips, and staying close to him through the days or weeks of recuperation. As she slid more deeply beyond the conscious state, the images changed. Scenes from the day’s museum tour were barging into her mind, starting with the transformation of Kirk’s dear head into the blue head…or swirling tornado that Nathan had seen. No longer just a representation of a recognizable human being, the blue head rotated 360 degrees, but with each degree of rotation, it exhibited the features of various people Janine had known, even her deceased ex-husband. Returning to its starting point, it again took on Kirk’s facial characteristics with one exception: his face wore a beatific look, one that melted her heart. As the image dissolved, the face so like Kirk’s looked back and gazed directly into her eyes. In the final instant before disappearing, he winked.
The next scene appeared in Janine’s altered state of conscious in what seemed like a blink in time (but if someone had been recording the vision playing out in her mind, they would have noted it was in fact two hours and forty minutes later). She could feel the restlessness of the waves lapping against the side of the boat as she bent over to grab onto the man’s arm—which she was sure was attached to Kirk—while the others, squeezed together in the boat, grabbed onto her clothing to keep her, too, from falling overboard. One arm stretched skyward, as he lay semi-conscious in the deep green sea, with the gunmetal gray shark close enough to count its three rows of needle-sharp teeth. The man’s hand was almost within her reach when the strange blue cloud appeared directly over them. She looked up and then back to the sea, and in that instant when her eyes were focused elsewhere, Kirk’s body was lifted out of the water, but with no detectable prop. The shark arched upward and forward, making a graceful arc with fully two-thirds of its body exploding out of the water, but it could not reach its prey. In the next movement, Kirk was standing in the boat with Janine and the others, but just as suddenly the boat was gone, and then the sea was gone, and then the people in the scene were only charcoal etchings on a white background in the original painting’s gold leaf frame.
After this bizarre dream she could not interpret, Janine awoke sufficiently to move from her chair to bed, not bothering to undress. Almost instantly she was in a deep-sleep state. This time her inner life was projecting a party on its motion picture screen; the table visited in the art museum was the centerpiece, but it was no longer a virtual reality—all the joyful people around the banquet table were enraptured with the flavors and fragrances, savoring all the courses, and the lovers most of all. To them it was Elizabeth W. Garber’s poem Feasting come to life. ‘I am the feast this kitchen was blessed to prepare waiting for you to enter open mouthed in awe in the mystery we’ve been given, our holy feast.’ [From Chapter 8: A Glimpse of a Future Together]
What stories could you tell or write by interpreting my photos of these paintings?