With Stories on Stage Sacramento co-director Dorothy Rice, I spent a December Sunday in the Crocker Museum‘s Friedman Court, facilitating cafe writing as part of a celebration of the museum’s Monet to Matisse exhibit of impressionist art. It was a great day–beautiful exhibit, the buzz of families (it was one of the museum’s free admission days), masked and spaced groups following docents from painting to painting.
But after the cafe writing was over, I found myself returning to the same painting I always do–Otis Oldfield’s White Dress (White Nightie).
In the painting, Sacramento-born Oldfield reveals his artist wife, Helen Clark Oldfield, as he often did, in undergarments, her white nightie, capturing her in a personal, intimate moment, as though we’re peeking through the window. As though we’re peeping Toms.
I love that. It’s what you do as a fiction reader and as a writer–peek through windows at the private lives of people you’ll never actually meet, people who may not even exist. It’s part of the real appeal of reading and writing.
This is something that drives my protagonist, Jane Benjamin. She intrudes into other people’s personal lives for plot reasons but also because she just wants to see how other people live, how they create themselves in private moments. When I look at this painting, it’s like I’m Jane, peeking through a window pane at Helen, trying to see what it is to be the private artist, wife to the public artist.
Something else hit me about the painting with this visit. Something related to audience anxiety. Read more in the newsletter.
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