A Thing of Beauty

A Thing of Beauty: Jane Campion's Film on Love, John Keats and Fanny Braune, and the beauty of Wet Paint Drying

I am inspired to write a little piece on a film I love, Jane Campion's Bright Star by a review written by a colleague* who stated that watching the creative process of poets is like watching paint dry. The colleague is a writer. I am a painter and sculptor who sometimes writes.

I paint and I often paint my sculptures. I have spent many an hour watching paint dry. I am fascinated by this vigil; as I wait for liquid to evaporate, worlds open up to me. Sometimes, as with polymer media mixing with a variety of agents and vectors, textures and objects, ideas and colors, juxtapositional unpredictables, the drying can be relatively fast. The excitement is in watching the crackle/ripple/ whirlpooling in your face to distant space effects transform before my eyes. Oils take a bit longer. Dare I speak of it in geological years? Epochs? Centuries? Decades...years...months? At least. It is believed by scholars that Mona Lisa is still drying. She is many layers, as are all good oil paintings. X-rays reveal her in many positions, with many different kinds of smiles under multiple layers of paint. We watch her drying to this day. This is the meaning of the Italian Renaissance word 'pentimento.' It is built into our definitions of what good painting is, that we can see through every layer to every other one beneath it. It is estimated that on average oil paintings take about three-hundred years to dry. Only enough of a surface needs to dry enough, that gently, patiently, softly, a new surface of image can begin over all that came before it.

My students were never bored by these processes, in fact they were rarely patient enough for me to get to issues of the technical, chemical and scientific; past such issues as I hold dear in all the arts: composition, subject matter, self-revelation, memoir, insight, perception, content.

As I watch the paint dry, I go into a reverie, each time. I muse on where this work will travel, before it alights home on a flower in the garden of my earthly delights. I keep a vigilent watch for elements of my own bright star, my own truth as beauty, my own nightingale singing my life.

Bright Star brings the viewer if she or he is willing, into the realm of another time, when the world was only on the brink of science and technology as we know it today. It was an era when nature could be taken for granted still, when the nightingale singing was the same one who had sung for millenia, would sing forever. It was how John Keats saw himself singing eternally, with Fanny Braune the woman he loved. And this is why I love the movie Bright Star; it is precisely because it brings me to eternal infinity of slower possibilities. It is because I am forever in love with the revelations brought on by watching the paint dry.

* In my lexicon a colleague is any of the many kinds of artists who are alive anywhere in the world at the same time that I am living.

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