Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recharging the idea batteries

I’m late today, but there’s a good reason for it: I didn’t have any sort of idea for a topic today. Not only that, I’m trying to finish up a book proposal and I can’t quite figure out the sequence of events that need to happen at the end of the not-yet-written plot. In other words, my idea batteries were dead. My darling wife had a good idea, though. “Let’s go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario)!”

This is one of my favourite places in the City of Toronto. It is a lovely space and thanks to a huge bequest from the Thompson family a decade or so ago, the collection became something very special. They also had to construct new galleries to house these art treasures. It is now something well worth making a visit to Toronto to see.

I don’t know why I couldn’t have thought of that myself. My brain often responds to a simple change of scene, especially when it involves immersing myself in someone else’s big creative ideas. I almost never respond to someone else’s writing with any sort of creative resonance, unless it be through the occasional stage play.

No, painting or sculpture for some reason seems to drag my muse out of hiding, and the AGO has a large and varied collection, most of which I’ve seen numerous times, but which still affect me. There’s something about sitting in a comfortable spot in a large room filled with art that teases out plot or character ideas in quite an amazing way.

We started our trip with a quick walk through a couple of larger rooms on our way to the members’ lounge where we had a nice small lunch and a glass of wine. Then we visited The Great Upheaval exhibition of art from The Guggenheim in New York. [How art got from Impressionism to Cubism has always been a bit of a mystery to me, and this very wonderful exhibit filled in quite a few of the blanks.]

The exhibit wasn’t quite what I expected, but I found that understanding how WW1 changed the whole nascent modern art movement in Europe, and the stories involved in what was changing coupled with how this conflict stunted or stopped much of the revolution in art and thought, got my creative juices flowing again. Oddly, while looking at the paintings and sculptures, the characters affecting my plot began telling me things. I had basically only conceived of them as cardboard cutouts, placeholders as it were, and that’s what had been gumming up the works. Suddenly the X’s and Y’s in my plot synopsis began to tell me their names. Then faces and other details floated to the surface, trailed by a bit of their backstories. It was almost magical.

We went down to a large room that has a “salon hanging” hanging of many paintings of the Academic Movement on one of its walls. I love this spot most of all. On the opposite wall are Impressionist paintings hung in the more usual fashion seen in art galleries. You can sit on benches and look at either of them. I did that, but my thoughts were inward, as my characters continued to reveal all.

I encouraged my wife to browse the gift shop on our way out so that I could find a quiet seat and scroll through the tangles of plot running through my head, sorting out which threads looked most hopeful and putting them to one side for later work.

On the way home, I also realized I’d let Type M slide, but here too, I suddenly had a topic.

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