You’ve Got to See This

My neighbor has a gift.  She’s an artist, but nobody really knows–at least we didn’t–until she began to show us all.

Her drawings make me so happy.  They evoke something in me that the real object doesn’t.  I realize I’m just looking at a drawing of a little girl’s shoes, but something about this artwork delights me. 

Reluctantly, she shows her sketches to the neighborhood children, and they gather around her in wonder.  “You drew that?  You really drew it?  With pencil?  How?”

If you ever get a chance to speak with an artist, I highly recommend it.  I ask Jennifer Kelly to explain to me why I love this drawing so much.  She writes, “There’s just something little-girly about the shoes, kicked off in a rush to go play. Their shape is reminiscent of the body’s long curves; the interior almost calls you to put your foot in, and your skin tingles, remembering the feel of your last pair of flats. Maybe the visceral nature of pencil strokes enhances the touch-feel-experience of the memory.”

Living with flair means you seek out your neighbor’s hidden talents.  And if you are the neighbor with the gift, living with flair means you offer it to the world.  You go public, you open your sketch book, and you let the community be delighted by you and God’s creativity flowing through you.  

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Journal:  What gift are you hiding from us?

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My Fight with a Ballerina

Early this morning, as the rain drizzles down, I drive across town to a ballet studio.  I’ve never in my life been anywhere near a ballet studio–at least not one like this. I walk in, moody as the sky.

Classical music, nearly muted, emits from a hallway.  I follow it until I’m facing a wall of windows peering in on a room lined with mirrors and ballet bars.  A sign on the door says a famous visiting Russian ballet instructor is giving lessons.  I lean against the glass and can’t believe what I see:  Rows and rows of young men and women–maybe sixteen years old–dancing in leaps and turns and impossible acrobatics.  The women have tight buns in their hair, and their pink tights and black leotards move in strict unison. 

Why aren’t they still sleeping like normal American teenagers in summertime?  How long have they been here?

It feels like a foreign country.  I’m only here because my daughter is five and obsessed with ballet shoes and twirls.  I’m only here because we’ve saved money for one activity, and as I tuck her in at night, she looks up at me with her hands clasped under her chin and asks, wide-eyed, “Mommy, when, when can I be a ballerina?”

For such an elite dance conservatory, the lessons are cheap enough for us to afford one day of dancing a week.  I approach the receptionist, fill out some forms, and then have to wait while she answers a phone call.  I find myself pulled back, like a planet in some larger planet’s gravitational pull, towards those dancers.

I’m back at the glass, looking in on this new universe.  Now the dancers are lifting one leg high up behind their bodies and extending one arm out in a perfect line as if beckoning me.  Their bodies are suddenly so beautiful, so exact in movement.

I steel my face.  Why are tears coming to my eyes?  I’ve resisted ballet lessons for months.  There’s no useful market value type of skill here.  I’ll pay a fortune, and what will come of it?

Then, it happens.  One teenage girl extends her hand towards me and balances while her leg lifts behind her.  She looks down and then up to meet my face.  Hers is one of determination and sweat.  Hers is a face steeled in a different kind of focus.  She looks me in the eye and, for a single moment, smiles at me.

Oh no you didn’t.

I’m her audience; she’s dancing for me now.

As that girl dances, I’m so overcome by the beauty of it that I can’t remember where I am or what I have to do today.  I’m lost in wonder.  How dare she do this to me.

They are doing all of this for me, for us, for anybody who takes the time to watch. 

I want to rush into the studio, stop everything, and extend my arms wide. I want to gather everybody to me and thank them for this supreme act of service.  I imagine dancers in other studios all over the world.  They are artists perfecting a piece.  Bound to the audience, they perform for us.  I imagine writers, film makers, painters, musicians, scultpors, photographers, actors.  I think of ways they sacrifice, burdens they bear, lifestyles they endure because they must develop their particular art for us to experience. It’s a service industry.  It’s a profession of joy-giving and beauty-making. 

C.S. Lewis said that “art has no survival value, but it gives value to survival.”  My daughter might never do anything at all with her ballet passion.  It might come to nothing.  It doesn’t matter.

It’s beautiful. 

Living with flair means that I acknowledge that beauty has no market value.  It’s too good for that. 

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Why You Need Artistic Friends

I’m an embarrassment to the world of arts and crafts.  I’ve never even used a glue gun.  But when you spend a day with an extraordinarily gifted artist, you have to enter her world.

The artist enters the room wearing flip-flops decorated with bunches of green grapes–she made them for a wine-tasting party–and we all can’t help but notice them.  Soon, my girls are asking about these flip-flops, and the artist says, “We can make any kind you want!”

Next thing I know, we are in Wal-Mart buying bright flip-flops.  Then we are in a craft store buying miniature birds, butterflies, orchids, and lots of jewels.  Within minutes, the artist has the girls sketching flip-flop designs.  She hands me a piece of paper and some butterflies.

I’m wondering when the cameras pop out and tell me this is all one big prank.  I don’t do arts and crafts. 

But when you hang out with an artist, you learn to do artistic, whimsical, and spontaneous things.

It felt a lot like flair. 

I learned to inhabit that world, burning my fingers on hot glue and pricking myself on butterfly antennae.

Later, I wear these flip-flops outside.  Mothers and their daughters shriek with delight and want to know where we got our shoes.  I imagine a Red Sea of children parting in awe as my flip-flops walk by.  Those families are already at Wal-Mart and firing up their glue guns.  I’ve created a flip-flop revolution.

So I’m adding this to the list of spontaneous and supremely silly things:  dancing in my kitchen, learning double-dutch, and now, gluing butterflies on my shoes.  Living with flair means you hang around artistic people and make things every once in a while.

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