“Can you see?”
Someone from the Brazos Valley Arts Council whispers, noticing I’m in the back on tip-toe trying to glimpse beauty.
I tell her no.
She ushers me clear past the first gallery and into the room where Christy Cisneros is talking about her work. I weave through the crowd and find wall space in between a friendly face and a painting. I do my best to blend in.
My eyes humingbird from painting to sculpture, and back again.
We move into the next gallery as another artist begins to elaborate on his work.
I’m not perceiving.
My eyes are still dancing, but I’m out of step with what’s on the walls.
Maybe I’m in the wrong place? Maybe this business of getting behind artists isn’t for me?
Eric Theodore begins to talk about glass. My eyes alight on a painting and he explains why it glints in the sunlight. That he’s crushed glass into the glaze.
My eyes slow, and the room unfolds. It’s my eyesight. I’m seeing wrong.
Maybe it’s that I was 45 minutes late.
Maybe it’s because I have so much to learn.
Or maybe I’ve just been trying to see beauty from the back on tip-toe.
Eric stops talking. The crowd disperses. I move closer to these paintings done by someone I barely know.
Can I get behind the work of strangers?
And that’s when I see them. Thousands upon thousands of dots. From a distance it’s the face of a man, but up close, it’s a composite of a hundred thousand moments where brush kissed canvas.
I move to study the glass sculptures allowing the art to be my optometrist. I start to ask questions.
What is he saying?
What’s the story?
How am I supposed to feel?
My mind tunes itself to the bow and string of the music on the walls. The art is loud now.
Crushed glass from a distance looks different up close.
The artist knew that.
A thousand dots can tell a story.
The artist knew that.
If I just took time enough to listen, I’d learn something.
The artist knew that.
And there in that Horlock house I learned that the artist is the most clever of educators. They are the ones who place their lessons on the walls and wait with the patience of eternity.
Artwork becomes a lesson in navigating the waters of emotion, and each piece a variable invitation to feel.
Okay, that last sentence got away from me a bit (what the heck is a variable invitation?).
But what I’m getting at is that five people could walk up to the same painting and feel five different things if they looked hard enough, or asked themselves the right questions, or took the time to engage.
Hannah’s artwork from a couple weeks ago was easy for me to engage with because my wife and I have known Hannah for awhile. I knew to ask those questions.
But when I surveyed the work of strangers, I found myself unsure of how to look at it. I didn’t know what questions to ask. I didn’t even recognize that it was so open-ended.
I had a lot to learn. But I wanted to. I wanted to see.
See, like the daily blessings going unnoticed in everyday life until we slow down and give thanks.
See, like the thousand moments where something precious kisses the canvas of space and time, marking it forever.
To see that even the most crushed and broken of moments can be glazed into something beautiful.
But how often do we neglect to focus, leave our shutter speed low, and the image of life blurs?
I do not wish to enter heaven having lived a blurred existence.
Life is more than a blurred existence.
Life is beautiful.
And to think that Theodore means God-given.
Like reminders to slow enough to see.
I walk into the next gallery.
My eyes fill with a floor loom, and I immediately remember how much I used to want one.
It belongs to Abby Hudson, a woman whose heart and hands beat for abstract chaos to balance with order.
I need new questions.
I get close to each piece and slow. Details.
A small stretch of blue cloth reminds me of bacteria-small-life, an intricate piece of twisted metal, and the smallest details as if she’s asking “did you notice this?”
That these most precious of details require a drawing near to see. And then there, on a windowsill, and only a few inches by a few inches across in a salmon frame ripples echo in a not-quite round set of concentric circles.
It draws me in precisely because I know others will have missed it.
And what careful circles in bright frames exist in my own life that others have taken time to snap a picture, but I have somehow missed? I wonder.
There’s something childlike about those circles…
Note that I use childlike intentionally; I do not mean childish. The former is to recapture something tender, precious, and requiring an absence of insecurity to return to while the latter is to act with immaturity.
Childlike: to wonder in the small.
…did you notice?
All of the sudden the art has taught me to see the small. To ask “do I like this?” immediately reveals itself as superficial as it disregards the human potential within the piece. That is, the impact that the artwork may have on one’s mind and spirit.
What I’m getting at is that if we stare at a piece long enough, give it our full and undivided attention, and take the time to ask ourselves questions outside of do I like this? I think there’s a lot we can learn and potentially relate to. What’s more is that those insights might have spiritual implications. Perhaps you start with a salmon frame and how small and seemingly insignificant it is, and then think of a small word that someone spoke and how similar that is to the frame, and then you begin to wonder if the smallest of your habits is somehow having a profound affect on your character.
It might just be a frame with childlike circles, but the re-evaluation of one’s character is serious.
And I don’t think it’s an accident that Abigail means a father’s delight.
And so there’s art, and something childlike, and this is deep deep water we’re swimming in.
And what of black dots and artwork I do not understand?
Are they not like people I do not understand, circumstances, or even my own decisions?
Abby and Eric taught me more than a thousand dots worth of realization in those two small gallery rooms. That place where I opened my eyes, and saw.
These two were both kind enough to let me ask them questions about their work and process. What was interesting was that every word of every answer had applications in writing, and I suspect, other forms of art as well. The following are paraphrased versions of their answers.
What inspires you as an artist?
Eric: Once I do a lot of artwork, I look at it and ask ‘okay, what has been inspiring me here?’ Recently, it’s been people and figures in motion. Athletics.
Abby: Nature. I like to look at the small life forms around me. I take a small area, and see what’s there. What’s already there is beautiful.
What’s already there is beautiful.
– Abby Hudson
Abby, talk to me about fabric. You have a very different medium than a lot of artists. I’m curious about that.
Abby: I’ve always liked fiber arts. It’s something different. Until recently, fibers has been looked at as sort of crafty, but now it’s realizing it’s potential to move into the higher fine arts. I love that. There’s a lot to explore with textiles, and that’s freeing. I think you can use the colors of threads just as you can use pigments of paint. I spend a lot of time just experimenting with natural dyes.
What would you say is the prevailing message of your work?
Eric: I think it changes from piece to piece. I want people to be able to register and feel something from each one. Titles are very important here. They can be tricky, and difficult to create, but can add a lot to the artwork
Abby: Making art helps me stay sane. I do it because it’s what I’m driven to do.
What is the most important thing you would say your art has taught you as a person?
Eric: It’s taught me how to push myself. I look at the old masters, and I get motivated.
I had friends that would be intimidated by what has already been done, and the time it took to achieve that level of realism, but that motivated me. I wanted to do that.
Abby: Confidence, and believing in what comes from yourself. I think that the things that are the most striking are the things that come from what your heart and hands are telling you to do. To not resist that.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Eric: Go for it. Never underestimate yourself. It can be like sports, writing, or music. If you put in the hours, they’re going to pay off. It’s all about investing in it.
Never underestimate yourself.
– Eric Theodore
There was a period in the summer over a few weeks where I literally did a painting every single night. I was up really late. Most of them were abstract or things I had never done before, or even thought about. It was just a question of “let’s see what can I come up with tonight” And it’s things like that where you really start discovering what strikes a chord with you.
Keep your sketchbook. Don’t expect everything you do to be a masterpiece.
It allows you to make notes, or take down a tiny sketch. You never know what it might inspire later.
Abby: If it makes you happy, and it gives you joy – just do it. It’s never going to feel like a job if you stay true to that. It’s fun to go in and make something every day. If you love art, go to shows, go find your community. And…don’t be afraid if you’re art is kinda weird.