Sketch of a Woman Carrying a Vase

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This is a rapid graphite sketch (with a clutch pencil and a tortillon) on paper of a statue in a courtyard.

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Spring, Late Afternoon

Sunlight moves like a river flood
that sets everything on fire.

Verdant green scatters beneath
incandescent foliage.

Byzantine rooftops are cut rubies
with diamond-faceted spires.

Sun-facing walls stand brilliantly tall
amid hedge-tops aflame.

A dragonfly’s wings are outlined
like the eyes of a woman on the verge of tears,

and a brunette walks by in halo.

Area Physicians View Cy Twombly Gallery

A group of area physicians visited the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston, Texas on Sunday afternoon.

“We were walking around the block after viewing nineteenth-century French drawings at the Menil Collection next door when we noticed a tan building with a louvered roof next to a lovely oak tree.”

Intrigued by the building, they entered and saw works like Untitled (New York City), below, which sold for $29,976,448 at Christie’s on February 11, 2015, and Untitled, below, which sold for $69,605,000 on November 12, 2014:

Untitled (New York City), Cy Twombly, 1970
Untitled, Cy Twombly, 1970

“My three-year-old created something along those lines this morning,” said Ben Bovie, a general surgeon who once lifted the scrotum of a patient with Fournier’s gangrene for hours while his colleague skeletonized it, intermittently having drops of peppermint oil placed on their surgical masks by the scrub tech to mask the odor.

Ferragosto V, Cy Twombly, 1961

“So did my kid,” said Chris Ferrigno, an internist who spent two years after college designing a plumbing system for a rural town in Guatemala and who recently defaulted on his medical school loans.  As he gazed at the masterpiece above, he was reminded of his toddler’s breakfast-time wall painting using butter and various jams, including strawberry and grape.

As sunlight filtered tastefully through a ceiling of white-canvas sail cloth, they strolled past masterpiece after crowning achievement after masterpiece by the great post-Abstract-Expressionistic maestro who was born into privilege, became wealthy by dint of his undeniable artistic genius during his own lifetime, won the Praemium Imperiale, married into aristocracy, and lived in a 17th century palazzo in Rome built for the Borgia family while gracing humanity with a soul-expanding oeuvre that certainly could not have been created by, say, a blindfolded, autistic cat.

Cold Stream, Cy Twombly, 1966

“You know, these scribbles remind me of a schizophrenic patient I examined once in medical school. He tiled his bed and the floor all day and all night with sheets of paper filled with 0s and 1s.  He had to be put into isolation because he drove his roommate crazy,” said Dave Dalhousie, a cardiologist.  Dalhousie spent a year in college programming a Braille translation system for his local school for the blind while financially supporting his mother and five siblings.  He estimates he now spends 60% of his time on the phone, fighting insurance companies.

His five-year-old daughter, Sarah, tugged at his sleeve and said, “This is boring, Daddy! I wanna go home and watch Spirited Away [by Hayao Miyazaki].”

He took a few photos of the masterworks and sent them to his mother–she had dissuaded him from majoring in art because it isn’t “practical”–along with the link to Twombly’s Wikipedia page.  At press time, his mother refused commentary.

The Artist’s Advantage

“So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Second, writing is survival.  Any art, any good work, of course, is that.
Not to write, for many of us, is to die.” – Ray Bradbury

The artist’s extreme advantage in life, when compared with the non-artist, is being able to channel practically any experience or thought into art that can nourish the self and can nourish others.  Very little of an artist’s life is truly wasted.  In contrast, when the non-artist has an unpleasant experience, it is at best a lesson*; more frequently, it is something much worse: a sunk cost.

I read something very interesting recently by a young neurosurgeon who died just a few days ago of metastatic lung cancer at the age of 37:  “If you asked me when I was 17 what I would be doing with my life, I would have said, ‘Oh, I’d definitely be a writer’…For me, literature was always a powerful reflecting tool for thinking about life.”

Although Kalanithi has passed away, he left us with two powerfully reflective essays (1, 2) that are well worth reading.

I’ve written almost every day for the past eleven years.  My private journals number in the many hundreds (thousands?…I don’t know) of pages.  I’ve written thousands of (hopefully) thoughtful emails to close friends.  Last year, I finally started writing publicly by creating this blog.  Indeed, in my case, as Bradbury put it, “not to write…is to die.”

*Highly creative and determined non-artists use such lessons to devise novel solutions.

Update 1/2016: Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, was just published.