Friday, March 14, 2008

Staying On Point/ Pointalism

I fell in love with the sport of fencing during my senior year in college. I love everything about fencing. I love the fancy footwork. I love the dramatic leaps, the delicate finger movements under my foil. I love pacing the narrow ten foot strip and the dash of a deflected repost. I even paced my dorm hallway at night with endless deep knee bends just to increase my stamina.

There was one part of fencing class that I hated; "point practice." One of the major keys of being a great fencer is to have 100% consistency in your fingers' fine motor skills. When you go for the dramatic leap to get a point, you need to be sure that your sword (the foil) will land exactly where you aim. To strengthen our aim, my fencing coach had us stand five feet from a 1/2 inch mark on our gym wall. Over and over again, we had to extend our arms and perfectly hit the mark.

I hated this practice. I'd hit the mark four or five times and then start getting bored. My mind would wander. The point of my sword would wander. I'd miss the mark. My foil point would go to far up or to far down. I try to refocus and my fingers would refuse to cooperate. My work on this exercise was beyond awful. "How long do we have to keep doing this?" I wonder outloud again and again.

This morning I thought about "point practice" and how it is the perfect metaphor for my struggles with stay-at-home motherhood. We had a great week. Lots of good home-school experiences, better discipline practice, fully cooked meals, clean laundry, etc. In general a lot more love and more cheerfulness in our home. Then came this morning. Baby girl is cutting her second incisor and is back to her "nursing all night long" routine. Instead of getting out of bed early to share a cheerful breakfast with my husband, I stayed in bed until 9:30. That left my awake older kids unattended for an hour, with only the barest, most incoherant mothering happening from my bedside.

When I finally got up, I found a raw egg on the living room carpet (how did a raw egg mixed into the batch of hard boiled Easter Eggs?) and purple marker smeared over my wooden dining room table. Luckily, I managed not to lose my temper since I distinctly remembered "can we play school?' and "can I eat an Easter egg" being part of the 'mom's in bed" morning conversation. So, I cleaned up the mess. I put the older kids back in their room to play and made myself a much needed cup of coffee.

This is "point practice" all over again, I realized. I've got so many talents for mothering. The major thing I lack is the virtue of temperance. Consistency is so against my natural inclinations. As a mother, I need to hit the mark day after day. It's not enought that somedays we make cookies, walk the stations of the cross, and indentify four types of pine trees. There are many things; meals, laundry, a steady morning routine, which have to be "hit" each day no matter what.

Steadiness, is a grace I'm eager to embrace this Easter Season.

For artistic inspiration, I chose "pointalism". In this form of impressionist painting, each paintstroke is a tiny, specific dot of color. From a distance, the dots blend together to create an illusion of form. The technique takes "forever!" Standing in front of the giant canvas of Sunday in the Park, you admire the stamina that Seurat had, even more than his brillant choice of subject matter or revolutionary color theory.


(click on picture to enlarge it)

Text from "Sister Wendy's American Masterpieces":
"Seurat's Grande Jatte is one of those rare works of art that stand alone; its transcendence is instinctively recognized by everyone. What makes this transcendence so mysterious is that the theme of the work is not some profound emotion or momentous event, but the most banal of workaday scenes: Parisians enjoying an afternoon in a local park. Yet we never seem to fathom its elusive power. Stranger still, when he painted it, Seurat was a mere 25 (with only seven more years to live), a young man with a scientific theory to prove; this is hardly the recipe for success. His theory was optical: the conviction that painting in dots, known as pointillism or divisionism, would produce a brighter color than painting in strokes.

"Seurat spent two years painting this picture, concentrating painstakingly on the landscape of the park before focusing on the people; always their shapes, never their personalities. Individuals did not interest him, only their formal elegance. There is no untidiness in Seurat; all is beautifully balanced. The park was quite a noisy place: a man blows his bugle, children run around, there are dogs. Yet the impression we receive is of silence, of control, of nothing disordered. I think it is this that makes La Grande Jatte so moving to us who live in such a disordered world: Seurat's control. There is an intellectual clarity here that sets him free to paint this small park with an astonishing poetry. Even if the people in the park are pairs or groups, they still seem alone in their concision of form - alone but not lonely. No figure encroaches on another's space: all coexist in peace.

"This is a world both real and unreal - a sacred world. We are often harried by life's pressures and its speed, and many of us think at times: Stop the world, I want to get off! In this painting, Seurat has "stopped the world," and it reveals itself as beautiful, sunlit, and silent - it is Seurat's world, from which we would never want to get off."

(This painting has also been turned into a play called "Sunday in the Park" which is currently performing on Broadway).

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength and temperance to consistently hit the mark on our daily tasks.

2 comments:

  1. Great post! It is hard to hit the mark everyday...especially with very tempermental young'uns!

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  2. I like pointism. It's fascinating.

    ReplyDelete