Mother’s Day and An Unfinished Canvas

When given the choice of what I wish to do on Mother’s Day I usually always choose between art and/or nature. Because of the “iffy” weather we had all week, I decided to go for art while still hoping for a glimpse of nature during the day. I want it all, you see. After years of a demanding career and doing my best to be a good mother and wife, I now want to enjoy the fruits of my efforts. This Mother’s Day I got a chance to do that.

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I first thought we’d go to the Frick Museum and the Neue Galerie in NYC. The Frick because they have a show on the portrait artist, Von Dyck, and a lovely courtyard garden; the Neue Galerie because they have a show on Munch and a lovely Berlin-style cafe where I imagined we could share a tasty plate of goulash or Wiener schnitzel accompanied by a crisp Pilsner. My plans changed, however, when I realized that given the current entry fees, it would cost us about $100 for five of us just to get into either museum, never mind what it would cost in addition for parking dinner and drinks! I chose the new Met Breur instead; admission is a suggested donation and that seemed more plausible for us.

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The choice of the Met Breuer turned out to be a huge success. The current featured exhibition is called Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, and covers two floors of the museum. The exhibit included paintings and works of art from the Renaissance to the present. I was knocked out by the works of many of the earlier painters including Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Titian, Turner, Manet, Monet, Picasso and more. The theme was fascinating, I thought. Apparently, what is considered “finished” in the art world has been the subject of debate amongst artists and critics through many periods of art.

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I gazed at a beautiful Corot, a spring scene of trees just coming into delicate bloom, which, according to its description, was considered “unfinished” by critics at the time. I thought it was exquisite; the blooms on the trees looked so delicate; the scenery was full of light and air. There were a lot of paintings with accompanying descriptions that indicated that there was no consensus on whether or not contemporary critics considered the works intentionally unfinished, or left unfinished by circumstances.

As the time period of the exhibit moved closer to the Impressionists, the issue of whether or not a work was completed became an overriding one as well as a turning point in the history of painting. Today we accept the lack of detail in the work of the Impressionists as intentional as well as artistic or “impressionistic,” but this was, of course, not true during the actual period of Impressionism when the paintings were considered incomplete by a public used to a more detailed, studied, formalized look.

As I spent the day with my family, I thought a lot about experiencing different phases of my own life through my experiences with my children. We often took the “kids” to art museums and still often go to them together. As we sat at a bar later in the day having a Mother’s Day drink together, I thought about my own “canvas” and the results of my best creative efforts: my two children now ages 32 and 34. They are both bright, sensitive, capable people living creative, productive, compassionate lives. My canvas is “unfinished,” but intentionally so. As they became more independent, I put away my paints and brushes and stepped back for a different perspective.

There are so many stages ahead for each of them that I hope to live to see in the years ahead, but probably my most creative work is done. It is now up to them to complete the canvas with their own intentions, in their own style. From here on, I’m just an admirer of their work.

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23 thoughts on “Mother’s Day and An Unfinished Canvas”

  1. Lovely piece today, Barbara. I also would have gone for the Frick. That is my favorite museum in NYC. I agree that the admission fees are making it nearly impossible to visit. I am not familiar with the Met Breuer, but we will have to check it out the next time we head up. I also liked the way you wove the Unfinished tableaux and connected it to motherhood. I enjoyed it very much. Be well, Barbara!

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  2. I always appreciate and enjoy your comments. The Met Breuer is just the former Whitney having been taken over by the Met to exhibit its more modern works. The Whitney moved downtown. I think it depends on what the exhibit is…whether or not you’ll enjoy a visit. I am not generally a big fan of contemporary art. This exhibit intrigued me because of all the earlier artists that were included with such interesting examples of their work.

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  3. Thank you for finding the words for what many mothers feel. Those first 20 years involve putting down so much of the base of the painting but the final touches are still being added. I am not sure we ever really stop painting as we help our kids navigate new stages of life where we have the experience and they might not.

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  4. Happy Mother’s Day to a special friend! I love the paragraph about your children being an unfinished canvas. It was such a powerful image to me and I’ll think about that with my own kids. Love how the children are the ones who will finish the canvas almost as if it were co-created.

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    1. As a mother of very young children, you are definitely still painting and will be for a long time. But at some point you realize that you wouldn’t want to paint it all. That part of the challenge and the mystery and the joy of raising children is letting to and watching what they do with what you’ve given them. Kinda’ like when they take their first steps.

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  5. Morning Barbara,

    I love that your Mother’s Day consists of art or nature. Mine too! One of the nice things about art is that it often incorporates nature like that lovely painting. My world looks unfinished right now too. The trees are just coming out in bud and there’s a delicate green glow encircling them. I have to admit, it’s my favourite time of year. My eyes can barely soak up enough of it.

    My kids are 8, 10 and 12, so maybe they are at the same time of development, showing their true selves, waiting to leaf out.

    Thanks for an inspiring post.

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    1. “…waiting to leaf out.” What a lovely image you have shared with me. I loved having kids ages 8-12; they were so much fun at that age. They’re more independent but still think the sun rises and sets with their parents! Enjoy them before they fully “leaf out!”

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  6. Good morning Barbara, This is a wonderful post from the perspective of a mother with down children. The analogy of our children being unfinished canvases is one that I will long remember. I often look at my children the same way and think what magnificent works in progress.

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    1. I’ve been wondering where you’ve been; or somehow I’ve missed your posts because I didn’t realize you are “Bernadette.” “Magnificent works in progress” sums it up beautifully!

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  7. It is a joy to see my children as they have grown to be wonderful adults. I enjoyed reading your analogy from the art trip to being a mother, and now spend lots of time talking with my children about their children, still unfinished, but the color in the canvases is brightening! Thanks for sharing your day, Barbara.

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    1. I don’t have grandchildren (not sure I ever will), so I enjoyed your comment about “talking with my children about their children, still unfinished, but the color in the canvases is brightening.” That must be both fun and fascinating!

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  8. I love how you compare your children to unfinished canvases which they will finish which in turn will become their unfinished canvases as they leave what they have begun for others to finish. The circle of life.

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    1. I hadn’t thought about it as “the circle of life,” but of course you are right. It’s all so amazing, isn’t it? I am really enjoying the long view; one of the gifts of being older and wiser, I guess!

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  9. What a great day for you and your family. Unfinished canvases… how perfect! I love the Met and the Neue and the Frick. How lucky we are to take full advantage of the riches of NYC!!!!

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    1. Yes, although I do it less often than I’d like. But still…it’s all there for the taking when we are ready for it. And the amazing thing is…it’s never the same; things are always a bit different than the last time you visited. Especially the prices!!!

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  10. What a rich post! This is filled with points to ponder and interesting art. Love that concept of the unfinished paintings as the theme of the exhibit. As many others have said, I love the thought of children as unfinished bits of art too. Sometimes we despair at choices children make, but how awesome it is when you realize they are productive citizens of society.

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  11. I love the Frick – such a gracious place to view art. I am in the same artistic space as you – my kids are out in the world, making it their own space;I see bits and pieces of my own touch, but I see more of who they are now – who they were meant to be.

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  12. I LOVE this line! “It is now up to them to complete the canvas with their own intentions, in their own style.” Great story!

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