November Night, Artistic Light

We rushed into the restaurant just as a cold November drizzle started to dampen the cobblestone. It was warm and inviting, a waiter smiled at us and the plates he was carrying looked promising. I chose a table by the window. I wanted to see the square outside. I also wanted a drink, I thought to myself, taking in the place, as I was warming up, sitting comfortably with a menu in front of me. Not too bad, even if touristy. But how else would it be? After all, it was Montmartre… I just hope the food is good.

A few artists finished packing up their things while we were making ourselves comfortable at our table by the window and now the square outside was empty. I’d seen it before, the other time I’d been to Paris, lively, colourful, full of artists – some talented, some not so much – pleading to draw portraits and caricatures. I wanted to see the Sacré Coeur and the view from up there once more, I wanted to walk on those streets by night, and I wanted to have dinner in that part of the Montmartre. I couldn’t care less whether it was touristy or not, all I wanted was to be in that part of Paris, look outside the window and imagine what it once used to be…

Repetition was what caught my eye. The silhouette seemed to wonder aimlessly in the cold night, arms wrapped tightly around a sketch book. In spite of the weather, there were people walking, in search of some sort of Parisian fun. They occasionally slowed down to check the venues in the area and the dark silhouette walked towards them in a somewhat timid, uncertain way, not always getting close enough to approach them.

Who would sit for a portrait on weather like that? Who would try to convince them to do so? Was it despair or was it illness? Maybe it was both… The ghostly figure walked in front of the window and for a second, I could see her face. On one side of the glass, there was warm light, music, laughter, drinks and tasty foie gras; on the other side, it was cold, dark and hopeless. And there’s so little preventing the fall from one side to the other…

Perhaps it was the fact that she was an artist… or she tried to be an artist… or she thought she was an artist… I don’t know. As a cynical urban dweller, I’m used to drama and despair on every corner. Yet there are faces that trigger something… and they stay with you, a reminder of a chosen perspective. Perhaps it was indeed the artistic side of the situation, or perhaps it was just Paris…

Art – any kind of art – is often identified and labelled as beauty. Nevertheless it generally becomes an oxymoron, it stems in what normally passes as ugly, depraved or decay, and feeds on pain, dysfunction and despair at least as much as it does on love and happiness. It deconstructs and mirrors both the light and the darkness of the human soul and life, in such a way that the boundaries are sometimes blurred to the point where it’s impossible to tell which is which.

She walked in front of the window, clutching her sketch book and mumbling who knows what to the passers-by, and I couldn’t help thinking… When does our creative, artistic side save us and when does it burry us? It was Montmartre, after all, so attempts at art were taking place everywhere… There was live music in the restaurant, and my eyes moved from the sad silhouette to the performers. She was never going to make it as a singer. I may be somewhat tone-deaf, but even I could tell that much. I thought the young pianist was more gifted though, and I wasn’t the only one of that opinion. But… I wonder what they perceived themselves. Were they aspiring artists, determined to try and make a living that way? Or was it just something they did to express their artistic side?

Then there was yours truly… I always enjoyed, needed and wanted to write, yet I never considered turning it into a career. I write, I self-publish, yet I don’t really see myself as a writer… an author, perhaps, among other things, but that’s as far as I’ll go. I happen to believe that a good camera doesn’t make a person a photographer, and writing doesn’t necessarily make one a writer. Am I a realist or a merely a coward for thinking this way? I like to believe I’m the former, but the truth is, I could never risk everything for art. Realistic expectations might make all the difference, but who could ever expect that from an artist… and haven’t many artists reached greatness exactly because they rejected caution?…

I’ll get back to my initial dilemma – when is our artistic side constructive and when does it become destructive? I can only speak for myself and perhaps take into consideration what I’ve witnessed closely. I often use writing to work through my issues; that’s why most of it is private. It sometimes mirrors the ugliest parts of our darkness, other times it’s about the better sides of life and people, but it eventually brings light and lightness into my heart, each and every time. I have no great expectations of literary success, and I don’t badly need my writing to be “liked”; that makes everything a lot easier, as far as artistic expression goes. That’s how it remains a saving light, not deep darkness which would devour me alive.

Of course, I feel great when someone enjoys my writing, when my words resonate and perhaps they even help in some way, I won’t deny how uplifting it can be, but that’s not all it’s about. Writing may be a part of me, but it is not my entire existence. Coming in contact with some sides of artistic performance, I learnt quickly that the artistic world is terribly cruel. Being only good is rarely enough, yet that takes a lot out of a person. So what happens after one is confronted with the reality of their mediocrity? For some, that’s enough. Some manage to cope with it and integrate their artistic talent in their lives. But others will be forever ruined, either because they cannot be great, or because the greatness they achieve is not the kind they were dreaming of all that time. So they wonder aimlessly through life, unable to find value in anything else, feeling robbed, misunderstood, worthless and unappreciated at the same time. Are they still artists, even if there is no art to prove it?

The drizzle stopped before we had to leave the restaurant and I was pleased. I wanted to take a few photos, I said… Well, the truth was I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to Montmartre, just as I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Paris. We were leaving the next morning and I wanted time to slow down. It was cold and damp outside, but my woollen coat and oversized scarf were warm and cosy. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a light up window and vanity reminded me I liked that outfit.

A year has passed and I can still see her tentatively walk towards me in her insecure way, sketch book in hand, open coat flapping in the wind. My heart sunk for a moment and I felt like running. What if she would see into me in a way I don’t want anyone to see? Our eyes met and I declined politely. There was something about her own vulnerability that made her strong and me, unable to gather and control my feelings and fears… light and darkness intertwined, making us so different, yet at the same time, nothing more than vulnerable human beings…

Thank you, Amy, for the inspiration (Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge – Magical Light).

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13 Replies to “November Night, Artistic Light”

  1. enjoyed this a lot- pics, words, ideas, musings… and excellent ending about the mutual vulnerability.

    and loved how you noted that light “deconstructs and mirrors both the light and the darkness of the human soul and life”
    and also could not help but think of the NYC artists who work in the cold night to try and get sketches made.
    and so you like foie gras? it is pretty good for the blood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Yvette 🙂 ❤
      I've seen these artists several times, in several places, but up to that point, never at night. I suppose that's also why I couldn't help noticing her.
      And yes, I do like foie gras (yummy!), so I occasionally have it. What better place to indulge than France, right? But no, I never really looked into its nutritional value, you generally hear about it how it's too fatty (I have to admit, I'm not too concerned 🙂 ).

      Liked by 1 person

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