My mother-in-law and I share many of the same, quirky interests—not the least of which is her lovable son. But on a recent trip to Florida, we shared a walk through the Naples Botanical Garden. The walk turned out to be more like a fanciful daydream through Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” with its puffy flowers and misshaped trees. We marveled and mused and pondered our way through the whimsical garden of natural and man-made creations. Most importantly, we laughed.
The tree trunks that looked like elephant feet. The murky lily ponds with a pop of a flower, yellow and surprising. The tree limbs that resembled Medusa’s hair on a bad hair day. It seemed everything required a nameplate to identify the species which made us feel less ignorant.
Of course, my inclination is to question everything first. What’s the purpose of that kind of shaped fruit? And what does that curvy leaf do? But my mother-in-law got it all right away—the purpose of whimsy is to laugh and smile and lighten the load a bit.
But even she had a wrinkle in her brow when we got to the saw-toothed bark on one particular tree. Seriously, it looked like a hundred sharks had gnawed on that tree and left behind their dental work. What on earth was the usefulness of such an oddity?
The walk also featured artwork like La Calavera Catrina which are larger-than-life skeleton sculptures intended to celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). They were enormous and lurking and made us wonder: Who in the world would think of such a thing?
Then we passed the sculpture by Patrick Dougherty called Sea Change, which is a stickwork sculpture made of intricately woven sticks without nail or rope. Again, who in the world…
Artists and their artwork can be confounding concepts. Do we need to understand the artist in order to appreciate their art? Or does the art give us a window into the mind of the artist? Maybe those are the wrong questions. A simple “What are they trying to say?” may suffice. (Others might reword the question to: What the heck were they smoking?)
I’ve always found the question of inspiration to be a curious one. I understand that the true meaning of art is found in how it makes us think or feel or respond. But art also makes me wonder if I would ever think of such a thing myself. Art challenges me to think differently while in my creative space—to push the boundaries on my own concepts of the world. Art is at once individual and universal.
There are so many fabulous quotes about the meaning of art. My favorite might be from Pablo Picasso.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Pablo Picasso
We couldn’t overlook the fact that the artist of much of what we witnessed on this walk came from the grand designer herself – Mother Nature. Perhaps on the seventh day she didn’t rest. Perhaps she decided she wasn’t yet done because Florida needed some really crazy plant life. The zaniness of this natural art definitely made us wonder: What the heck was she smoking?
I’ve learned many things from my mother-in-law, not the least of which is the power of laughter (and luckily we have her son to be such a good source of it.) Given her ease for laughter, this walk on the wild side was a success and just the undusting we needed.