Well. It has been a long time since I last blogged. In between has been mostly Church or family matters: the celebration of Pascha (Easter), different church projects I was involved in, preparing for a visit to my favorite music school (my trip was cancelled at the last minute); our son began a new job as engineer on a railroad that takes him right through a neighboring town, so we’ve been spending a lot of time Waving at the Engineer, like a pair of “foamers” (railroad slang for extreme railfans). And, as always, the daily round of housework, medical appointments (thankfully routine), and family visits. Not a lot of time for blogging.
However, this month I have signed up for NaBloPoMo’s daily post. Heaven alone knows if I will actually get to do it daily, but I have promised to make the attempt. This post is a trial run focusing, at least partially, on their theme for August: Sweetness.
One of the sweeter aspects of my life is cross stitch. Not those wussy, cutesy little things, but fine-art cross stitch, the kind that takes up at least half a yard of fabric and involves covering every square inch of it with stitches. Colors up the wazoo: my current project has 120 colors, and I pared it down from 208. In retrospect, I should have left it at 208, since paring it down does affect the detail.
But there is still plenty of detail, and the upshot is, I am actually learning about Art: how artists perceive the interplay of colors, shapes, details as part of the overall picture – things that never struck me before. The painting I am working on isn’t tranquil or inspiring, at least, not in the ordinary sense: It’s a painting entitled Boyarina Morozova, by the Russian artist V. I. Surikov, and it depicts a moment in Russian history that was full of turmoil. If you’re into the 6-6-6 thing, this event took place in 1666, which is suggestive.
A project like this takes pages – 48, in this instance. 48 pages of little tiny symbols that represent the different floss colors, and – thanks to whatever genius applied his computer-programming skills to needlework – come together in a reasonable facsimile of great art. As I’m working on it, the same thing occurs over and over: I work in a ten-by-ten grid of symbols, and as I’m working, I keep thinking, “What the heck am I looking at here?! This can’t be right!” I grab the printout of the painting and look at the area where I think I’m working: Does it look anything like what I’ve just stitched?! Then I look back at my work, and, given a little distance – yes, it does. It really does. What looked like an amorphous blob of color as I was working on it has transformed, with distance, into the face of an old man with a beard, a very lifelike face with contour and shadow. How do artists do this?! How do they see these contours and shadings?! Me, I can’t even draw a straight line, and Surikov, and those like him, see an entire “snapshot” of history, thanks to an eye fine-tuned to color and its nuances.
This particular piece, as you will see if the photo ever finishes uploading – if not, you can look up Boyarina Morozova on Google – is tough to look at, tough to think about: a noblewoman who has been tortured and starved, and is being dragged out of Moscow into exile (ultimately, she was starved to death) for bucking the powers-that-were at the time. Why choose such a gruesome project? Originally, I chose it because it’s a very famous painting in Russian culture, and I had hoped to donate it to the Russian Department of our local university. I had visions of its making a Statement to those Classics weenies who share space with the Russian Department: Enter at Your Own Risk. I’m not sure that’s going to happen now; for some reason, the two professors who teach there aren’t talking to me anymore.
There is another reason: As a Russian Orthodox Christian in a post-Christian era, I’m painfully aware of the persecution that Russian Christians endured during the Soviet era of Russia, and I hold my breath as, little by little, I see signs of the same thing occurring in the United States. This painting reminds me that Faith comes with a high price tag. This woman, Boyarina Morozova, paid it. So did countless other Russians of the Soviet era. I hope I can show the same courage when my turn comes.
So…what on earth is sweet about this topic?! Admittedly, not much. But I must say that I’m enjoying, enormously, my belated Art education. Color, line, perspective. Shading, detail. After a lifetime of wondering how people actually see this stuff – I’m learning to see it, too.