This week I read The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall. Before I read it, I could point out one or two of Rousseau’s paintings. I knew I liked them because of the bright colors and the raw energy. Somehow they seemed unfettered by the many rules and expectations that corral so much of what we all create.
What I didn’t realize until I read this book was how late Rousseau came to art — he was 41 years old and a toll booth operator. Think day job. He was also self taught and couldn’t afford to travel to the jungles that filled his imagination. He studied animals at the zoo, plants at a local botanical garden and photos to learn anatomy.
Not surprisingly, his work was not well received by the critics. After all, he didn’t paint according to their rules and regulations. He painted as he felt moved to paint.
It took time, but Rousseau found a following. Pablo Picasso actually held a banquet for Rousseau complete with a throne for his fellow painter.
What can we, as writers today, learn from Rousseau:
- To write because that is what we have a passion to do
- To create our art as we feel moved to create it — this is our art, not his art, not her art, not their art, but ours.
- To pay attention to what other people say but not to let it stop us from doing #2.
- And to remember that creating our art is not everything. Sometimes we need to take the time to mingle with our friends, family and colleagues.
Take the time to read this book and be inspired.