The Art of Artful Thinking

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“The Age of Maturity or Destiny or The Path of Life or Fatality,” Camille Claudel, circa 1899.

I was rooting around my overstuffed photo stash, looking for a blog, and I hit on a folder of Rodin sculptures that I got at the Museé Rodin in Paris a few years ago, lucky me. One image after another—such beauty and drama, such an expansive view of the human condition. The Thinker, of course, is his iconic work, the naked guy sitting on a Modernist toilet, pondering…uh, no, not a toilet, a big chunk of marble, what was I thinking? Anyway, that’s his biggie, immensely popular because, I guess, we all think, or think we do….

“The Thinker,” Auguste Rodin, 1904.

So I’m going through his images—of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, one powerful image he called “The Three Shades,” depicting a tortured version of death that may nor not be accurate—I’ll try to let you know, no promises, or you can let me know—I plan on sticking around for awhile. Each work evokes fictional possibilities, an emotional impact that, for a writer who is listening, might shape itself into a concept, a reality, a story.

Rodin (1840–1917) was hugely prolific, and the museum can easily fill your entire day or more. All this diversity of incredible works, each telling a story, your story if you’re listening. And then…I found the one above, and it seemed particularly swollen with fiction-pulp. And I thought, yes, that’s the ticket.

And then I reviewed my notes and realized this one was actually created by Rodin’s “mistress,” Camille Claudel.

Camille Claudel, 1864–1943.

The work works on many levels. One take: It depicts an aging guy whose mistress reaches out to him as his elderly “lover,” old age, caresses and seduces him. There’s a story here, obviously. But what story? I imagine for a receptive writer it’s a story that’s bouncing around inside you. Not Rodin’s or Claudel’s story, but your own.

The basic concept of the sculpture, as translated by artistic smarties (age pulls the lover away from his young paramour) would be enough to fill a few fat novels, and it has. But when you consider that Camille—Rodin’s much younger lover—created it, abundant new possibilities leap out:  mistress experiencing the angst of knowing her aging lover will soon be taken from her by time. Or maybe the lover’s real wife is pulling him back now, late in his life, that although he and his young lover enjoyed the physical and emotional pull of their semi-illicit relationship (this is France, after all)—not to mention his ego-gratification at having a beautiful young woman who adores him, and hers for a relationship with a world-famous artist—it’s his lifelong relationship with his wife, filled with immeasurable richness, the deep soul-attachment of two who have traveled a long life together, that ultimately wins out as he moves toward the end of his life. Of course, if you want to know their real story, I’m sure there’s a book out there that covers it.

Or does the younger woman claim him? Another twist—who does he end up with? Does he choose the younger woman? Does she then reject him, maybe recognizing the depth of his relationship with his wife? What does that do to her psyche? To his? To his wife’s? Oh, and do the two women know each other? What happens there? Gawd, seems like a story here for sure.

Rodin self-portrait.

On the meta level, what is the writer’s (you) take on this whole business of older man/younger woman as lovers? Of fame and its impacts on emotional relationships? How might you explore the feminist perspectives of this work? Start with a modern, “conventional” notion (of your choice) and then shatter it? Just as real life often overwhelms logic, rationality, decency, politics?

If you’re looking for a subject, you could do worse than to visit an art gallery. It’s all there, every twist and turn, every emotion, every story. Your story.

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