Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Woman

I received my membership card from the Philadelphia Museum of Art today. 

The front of it has an excerpt from a painting by Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle, 1923. [See the whole painting here]

I am not usually a fan of abstract art. But this little piece spoke to my condition. Any way I hold it, any side up or down. It is still fascinating.

Multiple circles and tangential and perpendicular lines in multiple colors

I realized that while I had heard the name before, I knew nothing about Kandinsky, so I googled his name. I read almost the whole Wikipedia article about him (it’s long). He was born in Moscow and grew up in Odesa, Ukraine. He originally studied law and was successful as a professor. He didn't start to draw seriously until his 30s but then he became a painter and a theorist and a teacher and he was part of the Bauhaus and he died in Paris in 1944 at the age of 77.

He was interested in the connections between art and the soul of a human being, and between music and color as abstractions of the soul. He was a theosophist and an Orthodox Christian.

I am captivated by these concepts and theories.

But also by the possibility that one might not discern their true calling in adolescence. There were glimpses - he says he was interested in color as a child. His initial interest in drawing-painting was in figurative," realistic" art. He saw Monet's “Haystacks" series and was initially distressed that he couldn't tell what it was. But it captivated him - it captured his attention. And he continued to explore these connections the rest of his life.

Most of the last month I have spent writing a novel, that began as an idea while driving a carpool a year and a half ago. This morning I had a vision of a series of books featuring my character in order to tell all the stories I was creating for her. Part of this morning's vision was of using a novel to proclaim the Fourth World, integrating another part of my life/self/ambition.

But I have to finish the first one. Not get captivated by the idea of being a novelist and lose the reality of the hard work and penurious life of an artist.

But this was also the first time I actually thought of myself as an artist. Of writing as art. Not just truth. Although art is also truth. 15 years ago, I was considering whether I could call myself a writer or not. I came to accept that as truth about myself. But only now am I seeing my writing as “art.”

One of the Kandinsky quotes on the google search page: "The artist must also cultivate his soul."

I joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art so I could go as often as I want during my sabbatical. Julia Cameron has a concept of an artist’s date, where you go on a date with your muse. 

Last year, I gave copies of Seth Godin’s book The Practice to a few people. A week ago, one of them cited it as being “everything” as she accepted a new job that will require her to step up in a new role. Then she quoted it back at me, when I was being fearful about writing fiction. 

And Samir Selmanovic helped me to think a couple of years ago about what I need to bring forth what is in me that no one else can do. What am I to do with my unique life? My one wild and precious life, to quote that famous Mary Oliver poem. 

So far, my sabbatical has unleashed



55,000 words of a novel.

Tonight, Chris made a joke and I said that would make a great short story. He said if you want to write it, go ahead. I just might.

One of the best things though, about this sabbatical time, is that there are no expectations, no pressure. I can flit from one to the next, and then dive deep.  Kandinsky again, “There is no must in art because art is free." How am I free? Am I bound by my own expectations? By responsibilities? By other people’s expectations? This freedom is part of what makes it art. But I think it is fascinating that the long wikipedia article has exactly three sentences about his personal life as an adult, and only mentions two of the three women in his life (that I read about on another site). What expectations was he exceeding? What responsibilities was he avoiding?

Dear God,

Help me to see what is mine to do and what to leave undone.


[I wrote this a year ago. I'm not sure why I didn't post it then. But a year later, it still speaks to my condition. After I got the card, I have visited the original painting multiple times.] 

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