Friday, July 20, 2012

Art is the Gift--a She Reads Guest Post by Ariel Allison

I’m not much of a painter. In my thirty-four years I’ve only created one decent watercolor. And that was by accident in the third grade. But, as the daughter of a prolific artist, I have a deep respect for those who can create beauty with a brush, a bit of paint, and a canvas. I admire the way they dream things into being.

Sometimes I wonder if we place more importance on the being than the dreaming, as though imagining something means it isn't real. As though it doesn’t exist if others can’t see it and touch it. J.R.R. Tolkien helped me see that what we imagine is every bit as important as what we create. In his short story
Leaf: by Niggle,” (by far my favorite piece of his writing) he introduces us to a would-be painter named Niggle who wants to create something beautiful and lasting:

“[Niggle] was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different.”

I relate to Niggle in many ways. He is tired and distracted and faces constant interruptions. He dreams better than he creates. It takes him years to begin painting his tree. Niggle imagines it in a meadow surrounded by mountains and valleys and streams that stretch on right to the edges of his canvas. But he never gets around to painting them. As a matter of fact only a handful of leaves are completed to his satisfaction. Niggle dies while still obsessing over his leaves.


(This is where I lay my face on the table and weep.)

But. When Niggle is taken to Paradise, he stands in a lush green meadow, so like the one he wanted to paint:

“Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch.

He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. “It’s a gift!” he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.

He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever labored at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time.”

This morning I emailed a completed and edited manuscript to my agent. I have held nothing back in the telling of this story. From conception to completion it has taken seven years and countless drafts and more effort that I ever dreamed I would put into a novel.

Maybe I painted a leaf. Maybe I came closer to the whole tree. But what I know for sure is that the act of creating this novel was the gift. And I’m so very thankful for it.

Your homework this weekend: read “Leaf By Niggle

Read it. See if your dreaming doesn’t become doing after all.


Megan Sayer said...

Ariel that is so profound I'm almost speechless. Thank you so much for sharing that.

I understand that feeling you describe. I didn't ever think that finishing a book I'd been working on for so long could feel so...uneventful. Your words sum it up exactly. I'd dreamed of a tree all this time, and was left unsure whether I'd painted a tree, or a leaf. It took a while for me to realise that, either way, it didn't matter. What matters was that I'd done my best.

Thank you.

V. Gingerich said...

Wow. Just wow. I needed this right now and for so many reasons.

Laying my face on the table, truly...

(I'll do my homework tonight; promise.)

Megan Sayer said...

...and I was so busy feeling all profound that I completely forgot to say CONGRATULATIONS! on finishing your book. Well done!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Yes. My dream was always about the publishing. Then it happened. I realized that the real dream was the life that happened around the publishing. The publishing is a pretty bright spot in the dream, though...but not the only one.

Nicole said...

Well done, Ariel. May this manuscript be both the leaf and the tree for you with its fullness yet unknown.

Patti Hill said...

There are many gifts in this post, Ariel, which so clearly reveals your heart. My take-away: Don't disdain the leaves I paint, write, dream. They are a gift, even though they are small and only part of the whole. Thanks for that.

And congratulations on completing your novel, the process and the art.

Anonymous said...

Ariel, awesome. Patti expressed perfectly my take-away from your post. What we do with our gifts must be as much or more about the journey than the destination. And your post was an excellent reminder of that. I can't wait to read Leaf by Niggle.

Ariel Lawhon said...

Thank you, my friends, for all your kind words. I recently discovered "Leaf: by Niggle" and for such a short story it has had a big impact on my life. I wish I could assign it as reading to everyone I know and then sit down and discuss it with them. It makes me cry every time I read it.

Please read Niggle and then come back and discuss it with me. There's so much more in the story than I could talk about here. And the ending! Well, go read and you'll see.

As always I'm so glad that my friends at Novel Matters have given me a bit of space to share my words. I'm grateful for you.

Samantha Bennett said...

Congratulations, Ariel! I love this so much-- "the act of creating this novel was the gift." Lovely.

Lori Benton said...

I read Leaf by Niggle many years ago, possibly even decades ago. But I still hear its echoes in my soul. What they seem to be saying is to delight myself in the creative gift (the work) God has inspired in me, and stop worrying about what I think I ought to be doing, or what someone else thinks I ought to be doing, or where it fits in the grand scheme of things, or whether the work is big enough or ambitious enough, or I'm working fast enough, but rather... does it absorb me, challenge me, and bring me joy? Does it compel me to give it my all in the telling? Am I being faithful to what I'm called to do, even if it's to paint a few leaves? No matter how small the work seems it is part of a larger whole, and one day we'll get to see that wholeness.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Yes, today was precisely the day I needed to read that (Leaf) and this (your post and encouragement).