Let’s Go on a Date

This week, I learned octothorp is a cute synonym for hashtag, or the pound sign (#). I recognized my mother in a painting by someone else who has never met her. I found shimmers of pearly mica in paper.

These were the unexpected discoveries of going on a date to somewhere new to do nothing. On purpose.

I’m in Week 2 of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way book, which guides creators (whether writers, sculptors, musicians, visual artists, custom iguana costume designers, you name it) to unblock their creativity. Her double-barreled recommendation is to write morning pages every day and take yourself on an artist date each week.

In her book, she calls artist dates “a necessary frivolity,” a time to take your artist-self out for a spin to somewhere new and then reflect. A dual experience of going out, then looking in. Unstructured playtime to inspire you and fill up your well of creative inspiration. And surprisingly, she says you may find yourself avoiding it, or allowing things to be scheduled over it.

As a bonafide workaholic, I can totally see me ditching my artist date at the first opportunity. When I stumble upon that stranger called Free Time, I think, what can I do to use this time to get ahead on my to-do list? But the concept of doing something new just for creative inspiration sounds pretty fun, so I’m trying it.

Last week, my artist date was attending the virtual American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference Fri-Sat, but this week, I had to think of something new.

Julia asks:

What did you do?

I’m new to this artist-date business and staggering under the weight of pandemic stress, full-time work tasks, and the joyful yet undeniably constant roles of serving as a wife and mom (oh, also, we’re selling our home, so that’s a whole thing in it of itself!), so forgive me for a pretty obvious artist date.

I went to an art museum.

The Weatherspoon is free to the public and located on UNC Greensboro’s campus, just over a mile and a half from my building. In my eight years of working at UNCG, somehow I’d never entered the Weatherspoon. It was high time, I decided on Wednesday at lunch.

Determined, I parked my car in the lot outside the building, strode past outdoor sculptures and circular tables with lemon curd-bright yellow umbrellas and the sounds of chimes, and pushed my way into the glass doors.

There is something special and uncomfortable about going somewhere new, especially if you’ve been living like a hermit during a pandemic lately.

My heels on the floor echoed around the rotunda entryway. I wobbled, having worked from home for over a year now and worn high heels only a handful of times during then. Far ahead of me was a welcome desk with pamphlets, and far to my right was a hallway. Uncertain of myself but still filled with the adrenaline of Having Made A Decision To Come Here, I chose right.

It was so quiet that I was startled to see the gallery filled with young adults. Each had a notepad or iPad and was peering at the framed artwork then scribbling notes. Only one sound reverberated through the room: the deep voice of an instructor saying, …notice how ink and glue were mixed together to form this rich pattern. See how the artist made this rubbing with the wood blocks…

I’ve never been comfortable in art galleries. Am I standing too close or too far from this picture? Is there an unspoken flow to which direction I should go? I feel like I’ve seen all this painting has to show; is it rude to walk away now and does it show my ignorance that I didn’t linger longer to fully appreciate it? Are they watching me instead of the paintings? They’re all in a class, maybe they know each other; do I stick out like the outsider I am? Am I even looking at the right things in this painting?

Worse still, some objects in the museum like benches and light fixtures were artistic as well as functional; was I even looking at the right art?

I’m like Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman (2017), admiring an object before realizing it’s just a trash can.

I hushed those voices, remembering the affirmations Julia mentioned. I am allowed to nurture my artist. Through the use of my creativity, I serve God. As I listen to my creativity, I am led to my creator. I realized how much I was thinking “should” and “is this right”, and I let that kind of negative, narrow thinking go.

Ok no, I didn’t remember Julia’s specific affirmations in the moment, but I did remember the spirit of what she wrote, and decided to go for it, to embrace the discomfort and silence the frantic voices inside my head telling me to walk briskly out of there, back to the parking lot, and hide in my car.

I walked up to the first framed photo. I let my eyes travel the flawless, calm face, the arms with no imperfections, the delicate brush strokes of her eyebrows and hair, and the vibrant flowers and stars of her gown. The plaque on the wall identified these paintings from Shinsui Itō, from a collection called Twelve Images of Modern Beauties.

But what caught me most was the attention he paid to the backgrounds. The handmade paper that winked and shone with flecks of mica. The muted red and black tones from rubbing against wood blocks that seemed to have secret, faint patterns.

And that’s what it took. I relaxed, standing inches away from paintings, no longer counting the seconds I lingered, moving on eagerly to the next one, to discover the less-than-obvious strokes and shades.

I puzzled over some penciled, grayscale art. Leaning in closely, I saw the drawing was comprised of rows and rows of thousands of tiny hashtags (octothorps, the plaque said), some of which were dark and some light, all forming an impressionistic picture of something larger.

Ivana Milojevic from Serbia says her drawing displays the physical and mental parallels of a woman as a mother, wife, and daughter. Even before reading this, I saw my mother in her painting, the lines of her limbs forming the angles of our home, her forearms like the row of piano keys she plays, her legs like the spines of the books she’s encouraged me to read, and now write. It was shocking, to say the least.

I found a series of art from Carmen Neely, based in Chicago, who says the repeated elements across her paintings are like characters, even friends.

I saw Shinsui Itō’s signature in vertical kanji along an edge of a painting, and the plaque beside it said because it has a signature, this may have been a gift for someone.

I’ve been to many art galleries throughout my education and travels with my parents, but between Neely and Milojevic and Shinsui, this was perhaps the first time I truly thought about the artist. That these paintings were moments in their lives, how they carry meaning for them no one else might experience the same way.

And I saw paintings that I couldn’t make sense of, paintings that confused me, like staring at a math problem I hadn’t the least idea of how to begin solving.

And that was ok. It’s ok to not understand all art. It’s ok to accept that not all art is meant for me.

In some ways it was like Scripture. I may not understand all verses when I read them. I may get the words’ general gist but still have a sensation that deeper meaning waits, eluding me. But perhaps in time I will understand more, when the meaning is meant for me to grasp, after I’ve matured or lost or listened.

How did you feel?

So you see: I was uncomfortable. Insecure. Uncertain. Curious. Surprised. Moved. Inspired.

And glad!

What this experience indicates for my writing, we shall see. But I am definitely glad to have ventured out on this artist date.

Will you go somewhere new this week?

Me at the Weatherspoon, sitting on an artsy bench that was (probably) meant for sitting on, and definitely not an art exhibit. I think.

So you see, the date went well. I’ve been out of the singles dating game since March 15, 2014, thanks to my husband, so this might be terribly outdated but here we go: I had a good time. Let’s do this again sometime. Text me!

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