Playing with nature


Anne here, taking a slight detour away from history for the moment and into the realm of contemporary art, specifically sculpture. Nicola's blog on Wednesday, where she mentioned standing stones, got me thinking about one of my favorite artists — certainly my favorite living artist, Andy Goldsworthy.

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist from the UK, but he's worked in countries all over the world, creating artworks both timeless and ephemeral. I discovered him in the 1990's, by accident, while browsing through books in a bookshop, waiting for a friend. I bought that first book, and I've bought a number of his books since, and still prize them. They make wonderful gifts, too. I've never found anyone who his work didn't speak to, no matter what their cultural or educational background. Cairn

One definition of an artist is someone who shows us familiar things in an unfamiliar way. Andy Goldsworthy certainly does that.  For me, there's a childlike wonder in his work. He shows us nature as we never experience it, yet his art draws us closer to nature.

A reviewer in The Smithsonian said: "A new kind of poetry is created when Andy Goldsworthy works with stone, wood and water — our world never looks quite the same again" ~ "Searching for the window into nature's soul", Smithsonian magazine (February 1997)
He works mainly in the open air, in all kinds of weather, creating art from the materials he finds around him. He's made sculptures on the North Pole in freezing conditions, and in the desert in baking heat.

He doesn't use any of the normal tools of a sculptor — no chisels or hammers or glue or anything like that — he creates from the environment, using what the landscape provides, so he might sew leaves  together with thorns, or wrap rocks in autumn leaves, or use his spit in freezing temperatures to hold together confections of ice, or join reeds with thorns to make a delicate screen, like the one in this picture. He also stacks rocks in wonderful ways, using dry stone wall techniques, among others.  He's made cairns like the one above all over the world. There's even one in my home town of Melbourne. I must confess, I really love dry stone walls and cairns.

Icespiraltree He said: "I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and "found" tools–a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn." 

I've watched videos of him creating his sculptures and it's so impressive. He's amazingly patient, and his works are frequently spoiled at the last minute, by a breeze, a wave, an animal or by gravity, and yet he never seems to lose his cool. He just starts again. Leaves

Many of his works of art only last a few hours or a few days. Snow melts, leaves wither, tides sweep sand constrictions away. Other of his works will last for many years, but they are not always kept in art galleries or museums — many stand out in the wind and the rain and the hot sun.

Luckily for the ordinary person, he takes photos of his work and sells the best of them in books. (All of the photos on this blog were taken by Andy Goldsworthy.)

Sometimes puts a note about the work in the book with the photo. Some read like short poems. 
Iris blades pinned together with thorns
filled in five sections with rowan berries
fish attacking from below
difficult to keep all the berries in
nibbled at by ducks


Rowan leaves laid around a hole   Rowan_leaves
collecting the last few leaves
nearly finished
dog ran into hole
started again
made in the shade on a windy, sunny day

A portfolio of his work is listed at this website.
There's a rather beautiful video of Andy Goldsworthy and his work here. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

So, tell me, what do you think? Do you like them or not? Is there a piece of art or sculpture that really speaks to you? Or would you rather stay home with a good book? 

*Anne coming in after the post above was posted, to say how horrified I am about the news coming out of Japan. My thoughts are with the Japanese people at this terrible time.

Beauty and the beholder

1valchloesmall Anne here, dipping into the question box again. RevMelinda asked about the concept of beauty:  how important is it that a hero/heroine be physically attractive?  What other character traits/meanings does beauty (or lack thereof) communicate to the reader?  What were historical standards of beauty and how do they differ from our own time? And how do you mediate this for the reader?

An interesting set of questions, RevMelinda. (And for this you've won a book from me.)

A glance at various portraits through the ages of the beauties of their times will show how perceptions of beauty have changed dramatically over time. I might refer that part of the question to Wench Susan, who's rather better read in art history than I am.

For me, in my books, there's an important difference between beauty and attractiveness. I do try to make my hero and heroine very attractive — to the reader and also to each other. As a writer of romances, I'm aware that part of the appeal for readers of that they witness and to a degree participate in the progress of the central romance. So it's very important to me that readers get that sense of "coup de foudre" — that initial attraction that strikes like a thunderbolt— if there is one, that is.  It might not  be love at first sight, but it is noticing at first sight.

That said, it's an attraction as much of personality as looks. My heroes aren't always handsome, and not always physically perfect — I've had a fair share of wounded or damaged heroes. But they're always attractive, especially to the heroine, and I hope to the reader. As for heroines, my preference is for them not to be beautiful. 

Usually the first meeting of hero and heroine shows something significant about them, and is not so much about looks as attitude and maybe also situation.
I introduced one hero entering a ballroom thus: He stood out like a battle-scarred tomcat in a sea of well-fed tabbies. Separateness was a key to his personality, and a kind of theme in the book.

With my first book for Berkley, The Perfect Rake, beauty, or the lack of it, was a kind of theme. The heroine was the plain oldest daughter in a family of beauties, and her lack of beauty and her sisters' abundance of it fueled the plot.  The hero was charming more than handsome, and the heroine was beautiful only to him. In fact it was one of his most endearing characteristics that he never saw the plain girl that everyone else did.AG-PRake

Beauty is so subjective. 

I think it's important for characters to rise beyond their looks, and for looks to play a minimal part in their eventual fate. I hadn't expected to be asked to turn The Perfect Rake into the first book of a series, so it really was an accident — and not a very welcome one for me — that I ended up with 3 beautiful heroines for the next 3 books. Stunningly beautiful heroines were something very new to me as a writer. However when I thought about it, I realized that even beautiful women are often insecure and tend to focus on their faults instead of their beauty — I know; I used to teach at a girl's high school, and even the most stunning girls never thought of themselves as beautiful. Moreover these three heroines had been raised by a harsh grandfather, and each had their own vulnerabilities, and strengths that arose from that, which are far more interesting.

I remember reading in a script writing text once that "handsome" and "beautiful"  are impossible to act, and I now quote it to people who do my romance writing classes. Looks aren't generally the issue, character is. And those girls had plenty of character. And the right men saw beyond their looks to the character beneath.

Of course the pursuit of beauty is an age-old concern, and in some books I've included some home-made beauty recipes. I've had heroines apply crushed strawberries to their skin, place raw veal on it, and attempt to bleach freckles (which were regarded as a bad flaw) with lemon juice. In my first book I had the heroine making cold cream (which the hero, mistaking it for something edible, tastes before she can stop him.) 

"Are you trying to poison me?" He grimaced again and scrubbed at his mouth with his handkerchief. "What was that foul stuff anyway?"
"Spermacetti oil, white wax, almond oil," she said, between giggles. "I haven't yet added the lemon oil and lemon juice."
 He choked. "Spermacetti oil? You were planning to feed me whale oil? That's for burning in lamps!"

There are some recipes for home made cold cream here.

Beautymask  As a teenager I was fascinated by the various home-grown aids to beauty, so it was easy to incorporate them as needed into my books. Many of these are age old remedies and my guess is that most women have tried some of them at some stage.

There were lots of hair treatments, I remember. There was the egg wash, where you massaged a whole egg into your clean hair and left it for 15 minutes, rinsing out afterward with luke-warm water. I mustn't have rinsed it properly, as I remember that saturday walking to the station to catch a train and feeling the distinct waft of warm egg accompanying me. It wasn't as bad as the beer rinse. That promised thick glossy hair, and I went to some considerable trouble to sneak a glass of beer. The instructions said to let the beer dry in your hair, then rinse. After ten minutes in the sun, I smelled like a brewery so once again, I had to turn around, go home and scrub it all out.Beerrinse

I tried lemon rinses (good for blondes and oily hair) rosemary rinses, supposed to make it extra glossy, and vinegar rinses — they were all fine and smelled pleasant — even the vinegar.

As for the complexion,
lightly beaten egg white and a squeeze of lemon juice is excellent for refining and tightening the skin. Smooth honey, or yoghurt on your skin, leave it for a while and then wash it off with cool water — it leaves it feeling softer.  A face pack of oatmeal and lemon juice tightens and refines skin. I remember one time I made a little muslin bag that I filled with oatmeal and used it to wash my face every morning. There is no end to the home remedies people used, and I like to use them in my books when appropriate. In my current manuscript the the heroine keeps bees, so I'm incorporating some age-old uses of honey and beeswax. 


 I've also got lots of old recipes for home made medicines — some of which will curl your hair, I'm sure, if only metaphorically.  But I'll save them for another day.

So let's open the question to readers. How important is it to you that a hero/heroine be physically attractive?  What other character traits/meanings does beauty (or lack thereof) communicate to you?
And what home beauty remedies (if any) have you tried?