So, done a lot of thinking lately. And I think that I may have been doing this blog “wrong.”
Not that anyone can blog the “wrong” way. But I’m a story teller, and stories have been a bit sparse on this blog. And I want to change that. Now, these won’t be fiction stories (as you probably know: once you publish a story on your blog, it’s considered “published” and most magazines/publishers will no longer consider it). Instead, these will just be plain stories. Nothing less, nothing more. They’ll be scenes from my life, but also illustrate things I’ve been thinking about. So, here’s a short one for today. About Diego and his peaches.
Diego Rivera, the painter, left his native Mexico and headed to Europe to learn from some of the European masters. Despite his deep love for pre-Columbian Mexican art, he had become enthralled by European art and, I think, the tradition of European art. During this phase of his career, he mostly rejected these Mexican influences and turned to cubism, the European artistic rage of the day. Picasso had marked him out as one of the leading future painters. Money was coming in, his exhibitions were gaining more interest. And then one morning, he ran into a cart of peaches on the street.
Suddenly, my whole being was filled with this commonplace object. I stood there transfixed, my eyes absorbing every detail. With unbelievable force, the texture, the forms, and colors of the peaches seemed to reach out toward me. I rushed back to my studio…
But things didn’t go easy. Not at all.
Nevertheless, the beginning proved painful and tedious. In the process of tearing myself away from cubism, I met with repeated failures. But I did not give up.
What to do, indeed, but forge ahead? And forge ahead stubbornly, he did. In the most difficult times, one theme kept coming back to him.
During the worst hours, I would find comfort in the precept of my old Mexican tutor, [Jose] Posada, to paint what I knew and felt. And I realized that what I knew best and felt most was my own country, Mexico.
That almost knocked me off my chair when I read it: “paint what I knew and felt.” It’s the same thing in writing. You’ve probably heard that old cliché: “Write what you know.” But I think Diego added a nice twist to it as if he’s saying: “Write what you know and love.” That rings so true. It’s not enough to just write what you know, you have to love it too. Bring together the extra-rational enthusiasm of love and the intellectual insight of knowledge. Diego says that this is what gets an artist to the peak of creativity, beyond “mere craftsmanship” and technical expertise. How true.
It’s a good reminder as I wrap up one manuscript and mentally prepare for the next. When it’s time to select the next piece to work on, I’ll keep my mind open so I can pick a work which speaks to my heart and my mind. Something I “know and love.” I suggest you seek out the same things, even if you can devote a limited amount of time to them. It’s sure to put a smile on your face.
Until next time,
[PS: This is a retelling of an incident from Diego Rivera’s autobiography. Though the book is full of self-mythologizing, I highly recommend it.]