It’s another hot and muggy day at the cottage. We took the week off and have spent the past few days working on different projects – weeding the pathways, filling the bird feeders, sweeping the decks and power spraying the boathouse to free it of the algae that the wet weather has helped along.
This is the first year I’ve spent so much time cleaning off the screened-in porches. Each spring a coating of yellow pollen covers everything heavily during the first few weeks of June and I usually mop it up a few times over the month. But this year I’m careful to watch out for small objects on the floor, worried that our eight-month-old son might choke on them. My search turns up a marble, a number of old golf balls and a rock collection – each and every stone seems dangerous. As I look at them more closely I see why one of my nephews collected them. Here a pink one, there a shiny black one; each has something beautiful about it. I don’t remember when I stopped long enough to look for beauty in a stone. I think I’ll start a rock collection of my own.
Rushing from one room to another, I fall over another collection of wood thrown beside a doorway (we are a family of collectors). Cursing the existence of the wood, for an instant I think of throwing it all back into the forest, but as my anger at my clumsiness subsides I crawl back over to it and begin to sort through each piece. The pile has grown from a few great walking sticks to over 20 pieces of wood. For each piece of wood, I spot the reason it was taken from the forest floor. One is large and heavy with a perfect v-shape at the top – it is solid and might make a good slingshot or crutch. Another has a web of grooves in a beautiful design chiselled out by an insect; still another is shaped like an animal. Each piece is unique and beautiful in its own way. I remember how I used to collect rocks and shells for their beauty. I think the first seeds for appreciating beauty come from these objects a child picks up. I move the wood to a corner of the porch away from the doorway, yet still within reach.
The wood and the rock collections are treasures gathered by the boys. They are the first step to valuing things of beauty. I wonder what the next step will be? I hope they never lose the sense of wonder they had when they first picked them up.
Above the fireplace in the cottage we’ve just hung a painting by the native painter Norval Morriseau that my brother-in-law purchased for the cottage. It’s a black moose with a pattern of orange, green, and red markings inside it. It sits on a background of dark blue and light blue divided by a black line. There are two circles, one on the bottom left side and one on the top right side of the picture. The circles are joined to the moose with black lines. They tie all the bold colours in the painting together, balancing them. I wonder if there is a story to go along with this painting? I try to find beauty in it. I love the rich colours but I can’t seem to feel anything from it.
I wonder when my idea of beauty changed, when did it take on the need for emotion? I can still see beauty in a rock or a nicely shaped stick, but they seem to have an innate beauty open to my imagination, which allows me to turn a smooth, shaped piece of wood into a deer, or to see the outline of a landscape on the surface of a stone. This painting, however, seems to limit my imagination. It makes me feel as if I’m trying to read a foreign language and haven’t any clues. I suppose I simply don’t understand its language.
Beside the card table in the cottage is another painting by an artist my brother-in-law came across a few years back. The painting is of the canoe dock beside our boathouse. It appeals to me because it captures a beautiful moment. The two canoes that we always put upside down on the dock sit in their usual place. The painting is by Ellen Cowie and although she isn’t as famous as Morriseau, her painting captures the feeling of peace that is here on hot, quiet, summer afternoons.
There is so much natural beauty here at the cottage. The beauty is in the sounds – of the water lapping against the shore, or the wind whispering in the pines. It’s also in the shapes the weather has made of the rock and wood; and in the colours – the green forest contrasting against the blue sky. All of this beauty stirs feelings deep inside me. The sight of the sunrise each morning causes a feeling of anticipation about the day ahead, while the sunset causes me to feel like there are no limits to life.
For me, art has to have beauty in order to be given the designation and thus must also cause a feeling within. It isn’t a coincidence that the mandate for the columnists here at The Women’s Post is that each of their columns must produce an emotion in the reader.
My father used to say that true art must instantiate human significance, and when I look at what our society calls art I see a few creations that do just that, but also quite a few that fall short of it. Is there a middle ground when it comes to art? Every artist is constantly learning and growing and changing, but do all of them aim for beauty? Do all of them want to grow?
There are some people who believe that art does not require beauty and others who say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I think there is a universal sense of beauty, an aesthetic of balance and harmony, that touches our emotions – which are the essence of our humanity. What is truly significant about humanity is our ability to think and feel.