Steamboart Art Museum Exhibit Bites Woman


Landscape painter and teacher John Carlson once said, “It is a curious fact that out-of-doors, nature is to the beginner an enormously overloaded ‘property room.’ He sees, for instance, the myriad of leaves upon a tree long before he sees the tree at all.”

That about sums up where I’m sitting just now. The “beginner” Carlson refers to above is a beginner painter who has inevitably been “out-of-doors” for decades before they consider what it would mean to try and capture nature with oil on canvas. In the same way, living next door to Scott for a couple of years is nothing close to seeing what’s actually happening here and capturing it effectively in photos and keyboard strokes.

There are a lot of leaves to take in.

In fact, I’m pretty sure the feeling of having my writer’s ass smacked down to the mat by having way too many interesting, important, fun, and NECESSARY elements to focus on at once is what Scott’s workshop students must feel like around Day 3 or so.

I’ve seen that look in their eyes. “Drinking from a fire hose” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

So what specifically is it that has my creative knickers in a twist today?

Well, hanging out in the studio and watching Scott paint is one thing.

Wait… Scratch that. Hanging out in the studio and watching Scott paint is completely mind boggling all on its own.

Even observing Tim Vaught, Scott’s current apprentice, prepare the paint palette is fascinating and an education unto itself. More on Tim down the road but for now, it’s relevant to say how comforting it was for me to hear Tim mutter under his breath, “Are you kidding? That blue doesn’t even exist….”

Is it wrong of me to find a strange solace in the struggles of others?

Okay, so there are all these painterly principles flying at me at ninety miles an hour, and for a person slightly obsessed with being able to understand everything all at once, it’s a tad painful.

Completely exhilarating, yes… but, um, intense. And I’m not even trying to paint. I’m just trying to write about it from the outside looking in.

But that’s not all that’s going on around here.

On Friday, Scott waved goodbye to Kristin Mortenson, Tim, and a truck containing 35 paintings that have been collected from generous donors from around the country, as well as ~15 field studies and a precious handful of recently completed works. They were on their way to Steamboat, Colorado, to be installed for the five-month long exhibit that has been planned since 2009 when Kristie Grigg, the original business manager for Christensen Studio, reached out to the Steamboat Art Museum with the idea for an exhibition of selected works.

That represents a LOT of vision, time, talent, effort, diligence, generosity, orchestration, and trips up and down the driveway by the UPS guy. The event also holds significant potential for education and intellectual development, and for increasing the global aesthetic awareness of and sensitivity to Beauty, which the world so desperately needs right now.*

Sorry. That kind of got away on me there. It just feels like such a genuinely big deal.

So, on top of all the other questions I have about painting in general, I now have a whole new set to deal with, like…

What does it mean for art to be considered “museum quality?” (Go ahead, I dare ya’: do a Google search for “‘museum quality’ define,” and get back to us here on what you learn, please. I couldn’t find anything that did not pertain specifically to model railways or shipbuilding.)

Why is it important that field studies are included in the exhibit, accompanying the later works that they eventually spawned? What can artists and collectors learn from seeing them together?

What motivates a collector to part with such an important part of their home environment for five months?

I can hardly even think of loaning my favorite sweater to a good friend for that long.

(Did I mention that Winnie always plants himself just behind and slightly to the left of whatever’s shakin’? I’m going to write a book about it. It’ll be titled, “The Tripping Point.”)

And why are you not feeling like you could walk into this landscape when I so clearly could when I was standing live in front of it? Why can the human eye see things live that an online or printed image will never reveal? Is that why exhibits are so important to the art world? And why is my eye convinced of the sheepliness of those yellow blobs of paint?

What makes a painting hold together?

Are there physics involved? I’ve heard Scott discuss the need for an “orchestration” of a painting, and the imperative to balance tension throughout the piece.

This is daunting as I didn’t study physics in school, so the whole E=mc2 thing has always held an impenetrable mystique for me. I’m determined though, from the art perspective at least, to pull on my big girl pants and work my way through what that orchestration thing is all about.

Meanwhile, here’s another idea I find comforting, from Mr. E=mc2 himself, Albert Einstein:

“If God has created the world, his primary worry was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us.”

Alrighty, then. For today, I’m good with that.


* Those waves to my left are one of Rick’s works-in-progress. Have I told you yet that he’s an amazing man?

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