Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Wright, Van Gogh, Beethoven and my Plans for Immortality



This week I took part in a Frank Lloyd Wright marathon down at the senior hall starting with a book discussion of Loving Frank and ending with a viewing of a PBS documentary by Ken Burns. Over five hours between the two. It would have been even longer if I’d signed up for the bus trip portion the next day to tour a classic Prairie house that Wright designed. I’ve been inside that house several times in the past and had no desire to see it again. I’m not a fan of its rigid, tightly controlled interiors but since my secret desire from age twelve to forty-five was to be an architect, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to learn more about a man that many call a genius, thus the time I invested in the marathon was worth it. 

PBS describes the films we us saw this way: This two-part documentary explores the life of one of America's greatest architects -- hated by some, worshiped by others and ignored by many. Using archival photographs, live cinematography, interviews, newsreel footage and home movies, the film tells the story of Wright's turbulent life and his extraordinary professional career.” 

Built over 800 buildings including the Guggenheim Museum, known for his huge overruns, a hustler and a salesman/showman as well as a genius engineer and designer, Wright was unique. His personal life was riddled with scandal---left is first wife with a ton of unpaid bills and six kids to raise while he ran off to Europe with a married woman and never looked back. Got married two more times, had two more kids, Wright lived way above his means but he didn’t seem to care. His personal motto was, “Live in the now.” And just to keep his beloved Taliesin house in Wisconsin, his friends had to bail him out of bankruptcy on several occasions.

After leaving the movie marathon, I got to thinking about other people who put their mark on the creative world who were troubled or outrageous in their personal lives. Vincent Van Gogh of Starry Night fame, for example, a post-impressionist painter who suffered with what people now guess was bi-polar issues. He killed himself at age 37 and was said to have cut off his ear in a fit of madness. (Although not all historians agree on whether he or his friend Paul Gauguin lopped off the ear with a sword during a fight.) Then there’s Georgia O’Keeffe, considered to be pioneer of American modernism. I hate, HATE her canvases of enlarged flowers and I have no clue why one of them sold for 44.4 million 3-4 years ago. She was legendary for her “independent spirit” but her personal life was filled with anxiety, depression and hostility. And who could leave out Beethoven in a discussion of famous works created by people with a messed up personal life? Alcoholic, extreme highs, suicidal lows. Ken Burns compared him to Wright because near the end of his life when he could no longer hear the music Beethoven wrote the notes on paper to create masterpieces that have passed the test of time and Wright, well into his 80s, did the same with innovative and pioneering engineering concepts. 

What does it take to be so creative that your work is your immortality---to be a genius in your genre like Beethoven and Wright? Do you have to be a self-absorbed ass-breath? Someday will, say, Harvey Weinstein’s cutting-edge achievements in film production, his 194 credits, be a large enough legacy to transcend his personal failings and flaws? Will students of film study his movies like architect students study Wright, overlooking the people Weinstein hurt like the people Wright hurt fell by the wayside? Does art---The Work---rise above its creator? Or do the scandals, the whispers of wrong-doing, the self-promotions and the self-adsorptions actually help to elevate their greatness---calling attention to the mystique of the misunderstood artist that translates into upping their commercial value after death?

I really want answers because when I turn 80 and check myself into a nursing home I want to be the next Grandma Moses. I want to get “discovered” by a newly minted arts and activities director for building fanciful structures out of Popsicle sticks and paper clips and or for painting noses and lips, eyeballs and ears swapped out of their proper places on portraits of my fellow inmates. I want my work to make me immortal but I don’t want to be considered crazy or misunderstood until I’ve got someone else lined up to do my laundry and fix my meals. ©


30 comments:

  1. I read the opening quote and wondered why humility had to be hypocritical; and thought of another quote "...standing on the shoulder of giants.." (Newton), which I take to imply humility and an understanding that no matter how great a person is, there are always others greater. Anyways, read on your post about Wright's life, and true, a very famous name and achievements, but personal life apparently not so laudable.

    The beauty of art truly lies in the eyes of the beholder, and is also not constant. Some paintings I once liked, I don't any longer and vice versa.

    I personally think you've achieved your Grandma Moses fame. Your blog is well recognised with world-wide followers. They say that nothing placed on the internet ever dies. In that case, your blog work has already made you immortal. ~ Libby

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    1. ha ha ha - Better to be famous for blogging than to be famous for doing a lot of other things I can think of. I have an acquaintance my age who like me is a frustrated wanna-be writer but I can't get her to blog. Not real 'writing' to her. She's got ten times more raw talent than I do WHEN SHE WRITES but she's bi-polar and she doesn't put her stuff out there because she's fixated on that novel still in her head. Got to be something in the brain that brings out creativity with certain chemical imbalances. Knew a kid in high school that same way. Very talented but nothing was ever good enough to be finished to him so I was the one who got to design the yearbook cover, the play programs, etc.

      Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but pushing the envelope gets you in museums.

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  2. I do think the brains of Creative People are often wired differently. It may contribute to their genius. Many Romantic writers--Shelley, Byron--their lives were reprehensible. But there are lots and lots of people who have led dissipated and ugly lives who have left nothing of beauty or importance behind. Who among us has a pristine life story should someone decide to dig into it and write it? It's the "correlation is not causation" theory. Do you see what I mean?

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    1. "Correlation is not a causation." I never thought of it like that, but you're right. All messed up people are not creative. However, I do think self-absorbed people devote more time and effort into developing their natural talent be it music, writing or visual arts. But what comes first, the chicken or the egg? And I realize I just contradicted myself between my reply to Libby and you with my chemical imbalance theory. LOL

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  3. I think most creative people are just a bit mentally unstable. Have a weird sense of their world. Personally, I love people like that--I fit in well with them. LOL

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    1. Judy, you are the last person I would think fits in with mentally unstable people. But then again I know how much time you spend with your neighbor so you might have a point. LOL

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  4. Seems to me with the examples you used that fame and immortality carry too a high price. You can always seek the less tumultuous path of Effie Leland Wilder (my personal hero) who published her first book at 85 from an assisted living home and had a gossip free past.

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    1. I just read one of her books for the first time. I do love a good story of someone in their eights being creative. But how do we know she had a gossip free past? It was so much easier to cover our tracks back in the past generation and before Facebook.

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  5. Great post! At least you HAVE some talents on which to build .... knitting, painting, writing.

    What an interesting (if longish) day!

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    1. It was an interesting day and didn't seem as long as it actually was because it was so interesting. The senior hall has other marathons planned and I'm going to have to start working out again for one I want to take part in...going down inside a WWII submarine, underwater. But not moving, just at the water musuem, but there is only one way to get down and back up again and that's a ladder the Navy guys used. We'd read a book and see a film first.

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  6. This sounded like a great day to me. Sometimes I think those who just do what they are born to do don't care about bankruptcy or what others think, they need to do what they need to do. A bit narcissistic I suppose but I also understand it even though so different from me. Everyone tells you when you're a kid that everyone has a talent. I am now 61, I don't have a talent and I think it's too late to find one now. But I continue to try.While I do think so many creative genius types are not what society would call "normal" but that is what makes them great to me. They are called talented, creative, genius, eccentric etc. But there are just as many talented creative people in all walks of life that are not so eccentric or what we all the normal ones. Julia Child was creative only with food. Nora Ephron could really do justice to words to make a fun movie/book.

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    1. It was a fun day, like taking a mini course at a college. And the best part is it was free. 133 show up for the movies, 44 for the book talk. Lots of interesting things going on, if you look for them.

      I think you have a gift/talent for working with people. Not everyone can do what you do to keep a business humming along.

      Julia Child was a character. Love Nora Ephron.

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  7. If you don’t mind me asking, what is it you really don’t like about Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings?
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I've never really thought about why I don't like her work. I don't like the close-up flowers as a subject matter for one, too much like close-up photography. Maybe I don't like them because I was in the floral industry for 20 years and I like the living, breathing quality of real flowers that change daily. Or maybe it's the big "blobs" of quickly read color on canvas with none of the texture and brush strokes that I enjoy in other paintings. I particular don't like her white morning glories. I take it you like her? If so, why do you like her work?

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  8. I always read all of your comments, and now I'm really amused. My favorites among O'Keeffe's flowers are her white ones: morning glories, jimson weeds, and so on. But I have a great love of white flowers, so that helps to explain that. Many of her flowers don't appeal at all. On the other hand, her landscapes, and her much less well-known cityscapes really tug at my heart. Who knows why? I suppose my very favorite is "The Lawrence Tree."

    There's a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Houston, tucked away in a tony neighborhood. Like you, I'm not so fond, although I do like those open views from most rooms. It's the sort of design that can really shine if it's in the right setting, but it seems to me that the setting's as important as the house.

    I missed the new film about Van Gogh ("Loving Vincent") when it came to the Museum of Fine Arts here, but it seemed so intriguing I ordered the dvd from Amazon. It's sitting on my desk now, waiting.

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    1. That's so funny that we both react the opposite about O'Keeffe's white morning glories. We'd have fun going to an art musuem together. Of her work, I like some of her landscapes. I've never seen The Lawrence Tree before, I can see why anyone would like that! Very interesting and strong graphic design and the view of the sky/stars is unique and captures the imagination.

      Wright did believe that a house or building should be part of the land. Views and orientation were conscious choices in the design. With one client he told him if he insisted on building on the land he wanted that he'd only design him a building if it didn't have windows. And that's what they built, using sky lights because Wright didn't like the views. He was such a control freak...designed all the furniture, china, linen for the houses he designed and once when he'd gone to visit a client after they'd moved in, the client had rearranged the furniture and he moved it all back to where he said it should STAY.

      I'd love to see that Van Gogh film! I like a lot of his paintings. Of the impressionists, my favorites are Monet and Renoir.

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  9. You make some interesting points Jean, if I have to be in that frame of mind to become famous I'd just as soon not be remembered. Like Libby said you already have worldwide fame with your blog so add this to your many talents and you really will never have to go off the deep end to become immortal. I'd personally prefer to keep both of my ears, they at least keep my glasses somewhat straight.

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    1. Gotta remember, Jimmy, that ear got cut off before contacts were invented. Wouldn't be such a big deal now. LOL I'm half kidding about wanting to be immortal but I appreciate you backing up Libby's theory.

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  10. You might be interested in the new movie starring Helen Mirren coming out sood called Winchester. It's about the real Mrs. Winchester, wife of the man who created the Winchester rifles. I think after his death, she was so worried that all the ghosts of people that had been killed with his rifles would come haunt her home, that she started adding doors and halls and windows that led no where, all in the hopes of trapping them, confusing them, or at least keeping them away from her. The house is in San Jose, CA. I just heard this story on the radio today, and we are now talking about going to visit it. Anyhow, this is a ghost movie, which I don't normally like, but we are going to watch it when it comes to Netflix because it's so intriguing. Yes, fame and money doesn't ensure sanity. :)

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    1. I'd see anything with Helen Mirren in it but the subject matter interests me, too, since it based on fact and my husband used to collect Winchesters. I just looked it up and it's coming to a theater near me in February. If the weather cooperates, I'm going to see it. Thanks for the heads up!

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  11. Apologies for getting back days later!
    I don’t especially like or dislike Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings but I have been intrigued by the close up sections of the flowers and the colors. The idea of creating a painting from a small section of a petal or flower head is interesting and I like her use of color in those works. It is such an fascinating aspect of art and architecture of why certain artists become more popular and has so much to do with the other movements of their time and the way in which one person might be defying the normal and resetting trends.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. An good artist makes us see things differently and Georgia sure does that for you. What you said in the second half of your reply is absolutely true. Pushing the envelope of the times you work in, "defying the normal and resetting trends" is what gets you into the museums and they don't even have to be popular in their own time frame to be influential long term.

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    2. I had a comment, and my computer ate it. Guess it wasn't meant to be relayed. Nice free class!

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    3. Don't you hate when that happens!

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  12. Interesting to think of Wright as a great engineer; I have the impression that many of his buildings were more successful aesthetically than practically. I've read that the people who lived in Falling Water called it "Rising Mildew."
    I am a fan of the O'Keeffe flowers, although I think it's hilarious that she steadfastly denied that there was any sexual symbolism in them. Maybe she meant that the sexuality of those flowers is too blatant to call it symbolic. :-) -Jean P.

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    1. The Johnson wall building (the one with the glass ceiling held up with "lily pads' leaked from day one. The president of the company even had to have a waste basket on his desk when it rained. The burns film said Wright was so good at pushing his artistic achievements that owners overlooks stuff like that because Wright himself did. Didn't hear the one about 'Rising Mildew" but that close over the water, seems like that would be a no brainer.

      O'Keefee paints the sexual parts of the flowers and denied there was anything sexual about about them is hilarious, isn't it.

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  13. That last paragraph had me chuckling. Love it! The questions you pose are worthy of thought and discussion. It IS interesting isn't that so many artists have messed up lives. Maybe rule-breaking (and a tinge of mental illness) are part of the fuel for creativity....but when it also hurts others, I have a hard time overlooking that. I end up compartmentalizing with grudging admiration of their artistic talents tempered by disgust at their personal foibles and outright cruelty at times. I hope to one day have a "Jean" in my collection of popsicle stick art....

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    1. I'm glad someone got the humor in that last paragraph. I think a few people took me too seriously. But now that I know there is a market for Popsicle art I'm more motivated than ever.... LOL

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  14. We 'officially' have a Wright building in town. Unofficially, there are two more. All three do really blend into their surroundings. I didn't realize he was a little wonkers but, as an artist, I sometimes think that being a little crazy helps with creativity. Being mean, nasty and cruel is just being mean, nasty and cruel. No excuses!

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    1. I decided a long time ago that sometimes we're better off not knowing too much about the personal lives of the visual and preforming artists that we like. It does make a difference in my enjoyment of their work..it shouldn't but it does.

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