Tell the truth, but tell it slant. This is from an Emily Dickinson poem, but I remember it most from a novel I read years ago called The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma, which really brought it to life. The book, if I recall, is about someone who desperately wants to be a writer. It is about the writing process. The process of creating. And what that involves. Tell the truth, but tell it slant. The book examines truth versus fiction and what a story truly conveys. It is broken into chapters, and each chapter is a different story of a person who desperately wants to be a writer, who is jealous of another more famous writer, and who also is in love with a woman. These are the things that tie the stories together, but each story is vastly different. Through them, the narrator’s essence starts to take shape but only as a construct of those various slants of the truth. In the end, you see the “truth” in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without understanding each angle of it. It is fluid, everchanging, but always constant, always growing.
The topic of writing, of storytelling, of capturing some essence of truth is something that has always fascinated me. I wrote my thesis in college on Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), which, if memory serves me (it was, in fact, a million years ago), is about someone who desperately wants to write a novel about people as they exist in time. It is about love and loss and death and life. It is about the trickery of memory – sometimes a vehicle of truth-telling, sometimes a mirage. It is about how what is written is actually something else entirely than what truly exists. But what is written is everlasting. It gives life to what would otherwise die. It captures a truth that is otherwise not possible to capture without storytelling. We then as readers of a story or viewers of art interact with the piece, and it becomes something else entirely. It becomes a part of our truth too.
Over the weekend, Michael, my almost 5 year old, and I had a perfect 48 hours together in NYC. We went to so many playgrounds, to the Cloisters, to Michael’s favorite restaurants, to the MoMA. I slowed down and spent time just being, soaking in the world around me. The flowers were blooming, we had perfect weather aside from a rainy morning when we watched Up together. And I just had this overwhelming feeling of how beautiful life is. How it keeps changing. How I desperately want to capture it. The essence of what I see and feel.
Over the weekend, Michael and I painted together. I love painting with him and seeing what his little brain creates. He is so artistic and imaginative and the way he views the world is so fascinating to me. When he asks how to paint or draw something specific, I always tell him, “Just draw/paint what you see, not what you think it should be.” “Draw what you see” is something I was taught in a drawing course in college, and it is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. This past weekend, Michael was painting a picture of the universe from his imagination and I was painting a bunch of daffodils that I was looking at. Michael turned to me and asked, “What are you painting?” “Those daffodils right there,” I said. “Mom,” he replied, “You’re not supposed to paint what you see. You should paint what’s in your mind.” He was right. But also I am not wrong. Tell the truth, but tell it slant.
On a jog yesterday, that phrase “tell the truth, but tell it slant” suddenly came to me. I hadn’t thought of it in so long, but at a moment when I was jogging alone along a pond, with the wind whipping around me, a sunny but blustery day, I suddenly thought, THAT is what I am trying to achieve with art. It is taking what I see around me, above me, below me, within me - and spinning it on its side. It is showing the various angles of what exists. It gives us permission to tell what we see, what’s in our mind, our truth, and then tell it again another way as needed. To construct a bigger Truth made of truths over time. It gives us permission to change and not to get it all right all the time. Tell the truth, but tell it slant. That is storytelling. That is life. That is art. That is who we are.
I am an artist/designer and former financial professional with a background in comparative literature, business and design. I live in New York with my overworked lawyer husband and my two boys Michael and Theo and spend much of my free time dreaming about how to enhance the aesthetics of our little world. I am endlessly inspired and always in search of something new. This is a blog about my search, my inspiration and things I just really, really like or want.