I have now visited the Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway show at the Clark twice, once with no prior preparation and once after reading the catalogue. To prepare for a third visit, I have begun reading Pavel Machotka's Cézanne: Landscape into Art in hopes of discovering useful ways of thinking about the paintings; for Astrup's deeply felt response to his native landscape remind me of Cezanne's. What Machotka unexpectedly gave me, too, was a way of thinking about a story I've been working on.
He speaks of the meanings of motif, which can mean the site of a painting or more broadly its subject matter, but which also in French carries connotations closer to English motive. "For Cézanne … it refers to the physical landscape that motivates him to paint, suggests a range of possible treatments, and serves as the standard by which the work is judged as it progresses" (p. 1).
Here's the first sentence of my new story: "If you make the steep climb all the way to the top of Bishop's Hill in the southwestern corner of Mount Ephraim, you come to a bench under an old crabapple tree where you can rest and look across a wide grassy slope." It refers a real place, somewhere I visit from time to time, always with a sense of specialness. There's a view across what was once a dairy pasture and is now mown for hay; around it, woods have returned to other pastures abandoned in the 20th C.; on the far side of the valley are more mountains. Time is layered there, and something in that physical landscape demanded that a story, a story about time, be told.
What's interesting to me now is think about what transformations the art of painting and the art of writing require in order to be true simultaneously to the physical landscape that motivates a piece of work and the demands of its form. No conclusions yet, but a renewed sense that these things matter—always a gift to an artist!
Image via a very interesting post, A Closer Look at the Mont Sainte-Victoire Series by Paul Cézanne.