I have always been mesmerized by Dale Chihuly’s art. The dazzling way he captures color and light. The whimsical shapes and forms. The spectacular statements and reflections. The exhibitions in the last few years of Chihuly’s glass forms in natural settings manage to merge art and nature in such a unique and contemplative way.
A visit to an art exhibition wouldn’t typically qualify as a hike. But in 2016 I hiked the mile or so from my hotel in downtown Atlanta to the Chihuly exposition in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I explored the gardens where his masterpieces were hidden in plain site as glass representation of flower and fauna. I followed the trails through and around sculptures that hinted at the similarities with the nature that surrounded. Then I curled around explosions of light and color that resembled nothing on this planet. I marveled at how Chihuly had simultaneously captured both the essence of something known and recognizable with something that only resided in imagination or outer space. And I relished how it all made me feel: alive, absorbed, inspired as I attempted to unpack what was in Chihuly’s mind as he designed his art. The yellow, Medusa-like explosion of tangled glass and light certainly is not a replication of anything I’ve encountered on this planet (except on days that I finally clean out my hairbrush). But it somehow represented how I sometimes feel in the creative moment. A tangle of ideas and images, all simultaneously expressing themselves, coming alive with and around each other.
As always, my overly analytical brain brought me back to my job as a writer. Isn’t it the writer’s job to untangle that messy ball of ideas in order make sense of something on the page for the reader? And here was Chihuly just presenting the messiness in all its glory without explanation and making me as the viewer do the work of untangling. I’m reminded of the Show, Don’t Tell rule in writing, a rule in which I’ve struggled mightily to find the right balance. I’m continually afraid that the intent of my words won’t be understood by the reader and so I over explain (as I’m doing now)!
Art, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as:
I would argue the real power of art is in the last two words of that definition: emotional power. How art connects to the heart, the brain, the soul. Isn’t the essence of art found in how we feel about ourselves or each other through that visual expression?
This is precisely what writers must do. Our words must resonate with the reader in a way that reaches their heart, their minds without telling them how they should feel. Chihuly’s has found an unapologetic way of presenting his art without explanation and still connect on that emotional level.
I admire, and envy, that talent.