I enjoyed it even more when I took an “art appreciation” class in college, which gave me a greater depth of understanding of what I was looking at. Since then, I have been fortunate to know and work with all manner of artists, from graphic artists and photographers to painters and sculptors.
Over the years, I have visited fine art museums and galleries, from the good ones in West Michigan to the Louvre in Paris and MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York. So, I am not a stranger to art galleries.
What is strange is that I will be part of an exhibit at a West Michigan gallery later this month.
Don’t worry. You won’t be subjected to rudimentary efforts on my part to render something worth looking at in any visual medium. I’ll actually be participating in the event as a writer.
“Expressions in Ink” is an interesting participative event hosted by the Water Street Gallery in Douglas. They have invited a number of writers, including me, to select a work of art from their current exhibit, “Not So Still Lives,” and write a short essay, poem, story or paragraph about how the art inspires us.
The exhibit opened July 5. The “Expressions in Ink” event is July 19 from 5-8 p.m., at which artists will be present and writers will read what they have written about their chosen piece of art. Books by the writers will be on sale in the gallery that night.
The event coincides with the “Taste of Art” tour, which offers free trolley rides to participating galleries in Douglas and Saugatuck.
I’m excited about the event. But I also feel uniquely challenged.
Earlier this week, when I visited the gallery, I encountered another writer and we both discussed how 100 words is not a lot. To non-writers, that seems easy — but to writers, that is a challenge.
The other writer, a poet, said she had so much to say. Even poetry is often long-form. Writing is not just the acting of putting words down, it’s choosing the right ones and deciding which ones are not appropriate.
This column is 750 words. Each month when I write it, I normally go too long, and have to comb back through it and remove the excess. Imagine my struggle to keep my thoughts about a work of art to a mere 100 words. This is why writing is also an art.
The exhibit gives a lot to write about. “Not So Still Lives” is an effort to show that a “still life” work of art can go beyond the stereotypical painting of a bowl of apples on a table. A still life really is a depiction of inanimate subject matter. That means it could be a painting, but also sculpture and other media. It also means subjects are not all fruits and flowers. Trust me, it is a fun exhibit.
I selected my work of art to muse about very quickly. It caught my eye, sparked memories or personal experience, and inspired thought. That is what art should do, and that is its value.
I sat in the gallery and jotted some notes down, a series of key words that came to me, almost like a word association game. Now, I just have to put them in proper form — a haiku, a free verse poem, an anecdote, a very short essay? I’m not sure yet. Writing is about making choices, and I have work to do.
I won’t tell you more about the exhibit or the piece I selected. I will say that is worth your time to go see it.
I will share this much: The “still life” exhibit reminded me that it is so easy to get caught up in life that we are too rarely still. But being still is part of life, to pause, savor something beautiful, reflect on the past, and think deeply. A mind in motion is part of an active life, too, and it requires exercise to maintain it.
So, come out on the 19th to see the art and witness my art gallery debut. It may be the only time you’ll see me in an art gallery as a participant and not just an observer.
— By Tim Penning, Tribune community columnist. A collection of his columns is available in the book “Thoughts on Thursdays,” available at The Bookman.