This painting, entitled “Adventurer”, was created by Janet Seaman. This painting has a story. And so do I.
Janet lived very full life that will be remembered for many things. As my Grandmother-in-law, I was honored to get to know her during her last three years on earth. Janet’s life was spent in the service of others as a dedicated school teacher, artist, and mother of six. From what I have been told, it was hard to catch her when she wasn’t deeply involved in one of those pursuits. However, she did find time for traveling the world where she observed beautiful landscapes that may have served as the inspiration for most of her paintings.
One of her many notable accomplishments involved painting the walls of the Niles-Buchanan YMCA indoor running track with a panoramic mural. The work was a historical portrayal of the cultural and industrial milestones that took place in the region of Michigan where the YMCA is located. The project covered 1/18th of a mile with colorful landscapes that changed occupants from the Native Americans to French and British colonies to modern society. Runners making their way around the track could watch history unfold in seamless transitions across the centuries.
Before her passing in December of 2014, Janet often told the stories behind her paintings and the process involved in creating them. No matter how daunting or technically difficult the task seemed to be, it was clear that those details easily gave way to the joy and love with which she accomplished them.
My wife has written, edited, and published two books that catalogue many of Janet’s works and convey the stories behind them. Every piece has its own story. Every work that was made through the creative intention of someone’s mind, heart, hands, and soul has its own story.
And every human has their own story too.
There are at least two ways to appreciate any work of art, whether it is a painting, a song, or piece of literature: technically and personally. Often times, one’s technical appreciation goes hand-in-hand with their personal love for a work but not always. For example: Regarding jazz music, I can appreciate the fact that there is technical mastery and skill in both the instrument playing and composition. However, I do not have a personal taste for jazz; given a choice between several styles of music I would likely not choose to listen to jazz. On the other hand, my parents personally loved the finger paintings and mysteriously shaped pottery I produced in elementary school, but there was nothing technical about those masterpieces to praise.
For Janet’s work, the viewer will immediately find a broad palette of technical skill to hold their attention and awe. The depth, color, and shade that enlivens the contoured landscapes, the choice of historical or geographical content, and the time spent on the piece are a few examples.
On the personal side of things, what can this piece, as one that you have likely never seen before, do for you? As I said at the beginning, this painting has a story. But perhaps not the kind of story you may expect.
In a way, art works similarly to color. When light strikes an object, some wavelengths are absorbed by the object while others are reflected. The object obtains its distinct color according to the wavelengths that are reflected. When we are exposed to art, it can either pass right through or strike something within us that can color and lighten that which was previously invisible or unknown. This is a principle that I am certain we are all familiar with to some degree. Just think of a song you’ve heard or a movie you’ve seen that seemed to aptly put un-named emotions and memories into words.
The painting above strikes something in me that encapsulates a scenario I have repeatedly found myself in throughout life, like a recurring dream. While I have had the pleasure of being in the midst of grand mountain landscapes geographically speaking, this painting colors the figurative landscapes that I have encountered. Just like the hiker in the painting, I have found myself dwarfed by the immensity of all that surrounds me. And just as color changes based on wavelengths, my reactions and emotions to being the tiny hiker change based on the setting. At times, I am frightened to be so small in the presence of such looming mountains. At other times, I am struck with wonder at what lies ahead and the joy of being able to explore and discover. And there are those moments when both are simultaneously true.
For me, this is the story of the painting, “Adventurer”, as I best understand it now: my wife and I are awaiting the arrival of our child. Once again, I am a small hiker in the presence of something greater and larger than myself. Life in all of its color is being drawn out in shimmering yet mysterious patterns as it reflects off of this new season.
I am joyful.
I am overwhelmed.
I am the adventurer.