Cross-Pollinating Among Writing, Art and Music

I already had plans to be in DC today, but after yesterday’s tragedy, it was a much-needed break. Updating the story online all day was difficult as more details came out and the story got worse.

My original plans were just to have brunch with a friend and visit the National Building Museum to see two new photography exhibits there. The exhibits were stunning, especially the photo of birch trees growing out of rotting books on the top floor of the old (now crumbling) Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon there, but something sent me back toward Archives/Navy Memorial. I ended up at the National Gallery — always a favorite — and figured I’d stop in for a quick look at the Monets. On my way to the Impressionism section, I heard music in the rotunda and discovered the Xavarian High School boys choir from Brooklyn was performing Christmas carols.

Xaverian HS choir from Brooklyn, N.Y., performing at the National Gallery.
Xaverian HS choir from Brooklyn, N.Y., performing at the National Gallery.

I settled down on the floor and listened. I don’t usually decorate for Christmas because I spend all the time around it at work covering for vacations, and the warm weather this year hasn’t been screaming “Santa!” “Reindeer” “Christmas.” Once done, I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon wandering the two buildings and looking at both old favorites and artists I’m not usually inclined to view.

The East Building had a Roy Lichtenstein exhibit, including one room with his Masters series, an homage to various artists such as Picasso. Among the pieces were two series that riffed off of Monet’s Haystacks and Rouen Cathedral paintings, among my favorites of Monet’s work. Seeing how Lichtenstein turned them around into his own style of pop art got me thinking of an early scene with Chris in the book coming out next month. That led me to Becca, Exeter’s artist.

As I finished exploring the museum with Becca in the back of my mind, I started to realize some things about her I hadn’t before, at least consciously. Subconsciously, though, I must have because her actions at one point in her life — which I’ve always known without ever exactly knowing why — are consistent with my epiphany today. Beyond that, though, I feel like I got a better grasp of her just from being in an environment that is in her wheelhouse. It’s the same way I feel more connected to Dan when I dig into historic preservation.

I had a similar experience this summer when I went to the Staunton Music Festival. Although classical chamber music (including some instruments I’d not heard of before) is about as far away from what jazz trombonist Chris prefers as possible, just being in that environment helped me get into his head more deeply than I had before.

Beyond the character connections, though, just experiencing other forms of creative expression always seems to root me more deeply in writing and help me move to a new level in whatever I’m working on. Both art and music use different parts of my brain than writing does, and that cross-pollination always makes a difference. At least it does for me.