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  • a happy, ordinary, middle-aged, suburban woman who paints odd pictures, gardens in a straw hat, lives with the love of her life, is owned by one cat and the ghosts of several others, and walks a little funny 'cause she has a fake leg. She started this website because there's more to life than what we lose, and we need to let each other know what's possible, even if it's only a happy, ordinary life.

November 2011

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Good reads, grownups only

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I heard that -- I thought it was a deeply moving piece on so many levels.


Alphabitch! I'm honored to see you here. You are also my 100th commenter, ever! WOO HOO! I'm sure that means something.

Anyway, yes, sentimental middle-aged stereotype that I have become, by the end of this piece I was a raw, bawling puddle. It is a really, really cool story, very inspiring, and the whole thing with the snowflakes just about killed me with joy. I'm glad you heard it, too.

I think it also proves that there's no justification for doing mean things to kittens, ever, not even for science. 'Cause, look, the conclusions the eventually Nobel Prize-winning scientist came up with weren't even all that conclusive after all.

Ron Sullivan

I haven't managed to listen to it yet, but did read the interview transcribed on the NPR site. Interesting. I have a lazy eye myself, undiagnosed till I was well into my teens. It affects my depth [perception some. I can drive (but am supposed to wear glasses of course) but I'm no good at baseball and my volleyball style is more like soccer, with a lot of accidental headball going on. And I'm a klutz and have persistent bruises at doorknob height. Still, when I do put on those driving glasses, the world looks flat to me. I suppose I translate "fuzzy in the right eye" as "farther away" and thus do the three-dimensional thing in my brain rather than my eyes, to the extent that I do it at all.

I means I do a lot of alerting at birds that turn out to be bugs, too.


It's interesting that your driving glasses actually make the world look flatter. I would think it would be the other way around. I have two pairs of glasses, one for reading and one for walking around. Speaking of klutziness, in a rather complicated middle-of-the-night mouse rescue, I recently sat on my walking-around glasses, breaking the frame. Since then, I've been doing everything in my reading glasses or without any glasses at all. I find I have less depth perception in my reading glasses than I do in my walking around glasses. I have very little depth perception with no glasses, but I do have some. I can discern different planes, but nothing really pops. I theorize that this is because there's tons of light coming in through my astigmatic left cornea, and the left eye moves with the right eye; it just cannot focus. But I really don't know.

Lots of light comes in, but I am nevertheless blind in any practical sense in my astigmatic eye without my glasses (and my astigmatism may explain my affinity for this font foundry). I've had this astigmatism a long, long time. It started very slightly, just enough to give me headaches, which caused me to get my first pair of reading glasses -- which I only wore for reading. It has gradually worsened (intensified?) as I've aged. I often wonder if some of my more -ahem- classic instances of klutziness, including both my stair falls and at least one car accident (the one involving my mother's Cadillac and oncoming traffic I really thought was very much farther away) were the result of my being unaware that I had this problem.

I also wonder what my paintings look like to other people. I usually draw and paint in my reading glasses. I am constantly adding more shading, more sculpting. To me, the art always looks flat, like old church icons, no matter what pair of glasses I wear. I've decided not to care. It looks like what it looks like to me; it will always look different in some way to someone else. That is the great mysterious pleasure of art, how we can have a clear idea what we want to create, execute to our own satisfaction, and then how it morphs into other things once it hits the eyes and minds of other people.

And for some reason, all this reminds me of my mother, also an artist, who was a big fan of Monet. Really big fan. Adorer. And one day we were in a museum, I think it was the L. A. County Museum of Art, and we were looking at a bunch of Impressionist works, and one of them was a late Monet, and these two women were gushing themselves silly over it.

My mother, who had little tolerance for certain kinds of BS, rolled her eyes and made a tsking noise. I asked her what the matter was.

"Those women. They know nothing about Monet. They're just dazzled by his name. He painted those pictures at the end of his life, when he was nearly blind, you know. They are nothing, nothing compared to what he painted when he was in his prime."

Years later I went to Monet's house at Giverny, and then to the Musée Marmottan. I saw all the late water lily pictures. I thought they were fantastic. I thought to myself that these were pictures of a passionate man, a man so in love with color that he would forfeit line in a heartbeat, as long as he could still wallow in sheer, rich hue. It's kind of like how I love Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the Eroica, the one he wrote when he was completely deaf, the very best of all. It's not only brilliant and true, but it's the work of a man so in love with music that he could still hear it even when he couldn't hear anything else.

None of that relates to you or me, not much, at least not as far as I know. I will probably not paint anything as great as Monet's weakest work. But those paintings he did at the end of his life, in spite of my mother's projection of shallowness onto their noisy admirers -- and she may have been right; those particular women may actually have been shallow, ignorant, and wholly brand-identified, but still -- those paintings taught me that it doesn't matter whether anybody else sees the colors or shapes I work the way I see them, for real or in my head. It doesn't matter if they still look flat to other people no matter how much I sculpt shadows into them, or if I add too much and actually somehow make them look some kind of ultra-dimensional but can never see it myself. What matters is that I make them at all.

And that's a weird place to get to from a discussion of curing monocularism. But it was never really about that for me, not just that, anyway, which is why I was sobbing at the end. This story was about not taking for granted limitations other people might inflict on us, even with the best intentions.

(Oh, and also never EVER trusting people who torture kittens, even if they themselves think they're only doing it for the most altruistic of reasons. 'Cause torturing kittens is just bad science, period.)

Ron Sullivan

Wow, this is fun.

I've heard speculation that El Greco has some kind of astigmatism. So yeah... As Gahan Wilson put it, "I paint what I see."

I think the reason glasses/no glasses works that way for me is that I had that lazy eye undiagnosed for so long that my brain adapted to it -- you know those experiments where people wore glasses with prisms that inverted what they saw, and in rather a short time began seeing normally with them, and upside-down without them? If I wore the distance glasses all the time, I guess I'd re-adapt, but it might take longer because I'm older. I do wear reading glasses, out of necessity over the last decade or so. Damn old age anyway. For a long time I got away without them because my nearsighted eye had the right range for reading. Anyway, needing one pair of glasses is annoying enough. Though I'm thinking I should nag for bifocals because reading museum tags has become a major pain in the butt. This is exacerbated by sore knees, so I can't genuflect the way I used to in front of cases with verbiage near the bottom.

Oh, FWIW, my own (minor) astigmatism has actually improved over the last two years -- part of that presbyopia thing, evidently. The op-guy tells me that isn't unusual.

I get paranoid about my vision sometimes, partly because I'm a birder -- by which I mean it's one of my chief pleasures, and sometimes practically orgasmic -- and partly because I spent the first three days of my life in an oxygen tent, and was convinced for many years that I'd get RLF or something from that. I think if I were going to, it would've happened by now, and the word keeps changing about whether it's the O2 concentration or something else about intensive care nurseries (which hadn't been invented in 1949, at least not in Schuylkill County PA) that's to blame. And partly because I'm one of those gloomy Micks, except for the quarter that's gloomy Taffy.

I have a thing about color too. Sometimes I have really color-saturated dreams, like the one the other night of some huge student art gallery/studio where people were making all sorts if paintings and fabric things and kites and clothes in brilliant colors. Or the store I had in a dream years ago, called Dancing Lights, that had prisms and rainbowmakers and neon and structural-color things and fiber optics and a sort of color organ with a keyboard and a big black screen.

About Beethoven, I've always thought that after he went deaf, he could finally hear himself think. Didn't he have like a bazilion kids? Or am I thinking of somebody else?


I can't believe it took me so long to reply to this. I'll be surprised if you even see this. Sorry. I did mean to respond; I just got sidetracked.

First, no, it wasn't Beethoven, it was J. S. Bach who had something like 20 children with two consecutive wives. Beethoven died a bachelor.

Second, I wanted to give some links to Monet's late water lily paintings so that you and others could see a little of what I was talking about with the color thing, if you didn't already know. I think his water lily paintings really illustrate not only how artists paint what they see (or don't see, or want to see, or see in their heads only) and what happens when other people look at art, process it through their own filters and projections and transferences, and turn it into their own experience. It's a topic I find endlessly fascinating, especially when I consider it in other contexts way beyond art.

First, here is a late Monet painting of the Japanese bridge spanning the creek of his garden at Giverny:

The Japanese Bridge, by Claude Monet, thought to have been produced sometime between 1918 and 1924

As with all Impressionist works, this picture is best understood when regarded both close up and from a distance, so roll your chair back a bit, then come closer to examine what he did. To understand the difference between this picture and Monet's earlier work, check out this earlier interpretation of the same subject:

Water-Lily Pond, by Claude Monet, 1897

Likewise, compare the water lilies in that last picture or this one

Water Lilies, by Claude Monet, thought to have been completed between 1903 and 1904 (sorry I don't have a bigger image)

with these water lilies

Green Reflections, left panel, by Claude Monet, 1920-1926

or these

Nymphéas, by Claude Monet, 1920-1926.

I am always surprised when people don't instantly love these paintings. Maybe one has to be part blind to really see them. Or maybe one just has to understand how another person might be able to fall in love with color itself. Of course, in spite of my careless remark above about a guy who would fall so in love with color that he would neglect line, you can see that Monet never did neglect line, and you can see how the Japanese influence he and the other Impressionists embraced affected his perspective even in these late paintings. However, this person apparently really hates the later stuff as much as my mom did:

"Monet’s Love Affair with Giverny at the Albright-Knox," by Hall Groat II

You can read about the exhibit this Groat person is talking about here. I found the following passage of the above article particularly, well, surprising:

The remainder of the exhibition is disappointing. As soon as you leave the initial gallery and proceed to the final two exhibition areas the paintings become overworked, heavy, and morose. It is obvious that Monet was merely reacting to what he knew from memory. The memory of what he observed at Giverny when he could see clearly. At this point in his life he was not able to identify subtle changes in color and form. The color and form become expressionistic. In the piece called Weeping Willow, the subject of the tree is barely identifiable. The brushstrokes of paint merely replicate the movement of the tree in the wind. Color does not capture the fleeting effects of light on the tree, as in earlier works. The suggestion of form appears clumsy, lacking the sensitive handling of earlier Monet works. As a whole, the paintings in this section share close ties in many ways with the New York Abstract Expressionists, and many of the artists who were part of this movement probably studied these works closely. The works seem to be more concerned with the process, and effects of the paint on the canvas surface, rather then the subject at hand.

What this person sees as criticism, I see as praise. So what if Monet was painting from memory? I couldn't. So what if the work was ultimately Expressionistic rather than Impressionistic? (And I don't concede this, and I also don't care if it's true, because labels are for critics, not lovers.) These paintings were created while Expressionism was being born in Europe. Even old and blind, it would make sense that Monet would help create the next avant-garde.

And, no, I'm sorry; I see nothing "morose" about them. I see them as painted passion. I feel both wistfulness and urgency when I view these works, but nothing about them is "morose." Not for me.

But you must see these your own way, no matter what others tell you. I know I preach to the choir when I speak to you, Ron, of making up your own mind about things! I mean of course that whoever looks at these works must make up his or her own mind about them. Me, I'm just grateful that not everyone agrees with this Groat person, to wit:

"Unveiling Monet" at the MoMA, New York

"Monet water lilies see light of day again," by Caroline Wyatt, BBC News, Paris

I also think it's fascinating that some of the very last Monet paintings were repaintings of late images he'd created before his 1923 cataract surgeries, when his range of visible colors may not just have changed generally but changed to a range beyond what people with normal vision can see.

This kind of stuff really boggles -- and tickles -- my mind.

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