Mother Earth is the name I’ve given her. She hangs on the wall of an artist’s studio, painted in clay reds and earth browns. I can’t get her out of my head. So regal and silent — She is a mother holding life at her breast, strong and alone. It captures what being a woman is about. Something in the painting talks to me.

The painting, done by Philippe Garel, hangs in the studio of Paul Duval, an art critic, artist and author of more than 20 books on various artists. I met him in his Toronto studio today and was both inspired and awed by a man who combines his passion for art with a gift for great conversation.

Paul welcomed me at his door, a little surprised at the car seat I held with my sleeping 10-month-old son. He exclaimed “Oh, you’ve brought me a Christmas present.”

We spoke of artists, of their contributions to civilization. We spoke of the Sistine Chapel — of the hand of God meeting the hand of Man and the tension in the small space between them. We spoke of buildings and the need for a museum created just for the city of Toronto. We spoke of the Royal Ontario Museum, and its disgraceful attempt to grab cash by charging admission to children. I doubt very much that the people who have donated to the museum want them to limit entry to children who can afford it.

Duval’s studio is one big open room with huge north-facing windows and a small kitchen tucked in under a loft filled with books. Art hangs from the walls, and ceramics and wood carvings are tucked into every nook.

His ceramic collection alone took my breath away — until I noticed the painting of the woman, hanging on the south wall of his studio, so warm it seemed to heat the room. And now as I sit and try to recall her, my mind becomes murky. I feel a need to see it again. My husband asks if I can see it from the street outside Mr. Duval’s studio, I respond that I could if I had a ladder. My husband thinks that might be a little too much like stalking.

Why is this painting haunting me? I remember my father defining what he thought made something art. For him a work of art had to instantiate a universal idea or thought — this was the only basis for true art. Anything else wasn’t art. My father particularly disliked works created with a political message, as well as works of self expression. He believed they distracted people from understanding the power, and importance, of art. The more I learn about art the more right his views seem.

When I think of the works of art that I have had the good fortune to see, it is difficult to find words to describe them. It is as if the art itself has a presence in the room it is in, it whispers in your ear, or moves ever so slightly so that you turn and look at it fully.

This painting seems to speak to me in a language I know deep inside. The woman is me, but not just me. She is a mother, protective and thoughtful. I want to make the painting fit into my life. I want to connect it to the things that give my life meaning. But an inner voice (which sounds a bit like my father) whispers…“Art can teach you how to navigate through your life. Art isn’t about how it fits into your life, or how it matches your décor. It is more than that. Instead think of it as something that inspires you to learn and understand the universal truths that matter to humanity — those universals are depicted in true art.”