As I walked to work last week, the stark beauty of the bare shapes of leafless trees and shrubs stood out clearly against the city landscape. My attention and appreciation were drawn to the branches, bark, and trunks.
The trees stood securely on the bare ground; except for a few broadleaf evergreens, the color of the past few weeks had vanished completely. The street landscape was filled with a wide array of browns and grays. The unadorned shapes were stunning in contrast to the mixture of sunlight, clouds, and blue sky in the background.
My mother said to me, “When one sees the tree in leaf one thinks the beauty is in its leaves, and then one sees the bare tree.”
~ Samuel Menashe
The structure was there all along, hidden beneath the leaves to offer support and give them life. The beautiful visible tree structures were quite similar to the “structural bones” that support any great work of art. Artists work with underlying structure to be sure it’s there, strong but hidden underneath. The hidden structure is what gives life to the work of art and allows it to speak. The bare structure of the work of art is pure potential. Even with the same materials, different artists can create completely distinctive works of art based on shifts and differences in the underlying structure.
You have to have that organizational principle behind the song.
~ Tom Verlaine
In previous weeks, I had been drawn to and fascinated by the shapes and colors of the leaves of trees of the same variety. Now in their plain bared state, no two branch structures looked the same. Their true essence was revealed when their colorful leaves no longer hid their character.
I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape… Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
~ Andrew Wyeth
How can we use this knowledge in everyday life? The importance is not the focus on structure at the expense of everything else, but rather how we can use the structure to support what we do.
- Our lives, organizations, and institutions all have their own personalities, and we can explore beneath the surface, “stripping away the leaves,” to see more clearly the fundamental nature of our work and professional life experiences.
- As we explore core structures, we can work with the elements and materials of the various aspects of our lives to build fresh creative experiences at home and in our work environments.
- As managers, administrators, or leaders in our communities, businesses, organizations, or institutions, we can use this knowledge to bring about clarity and a new sense of purpose in others.
If you’re an artist, arts educator, or arts administrator, you can begin to use this artistic process in your own life; you can also commit yourself to helping others gain a deeper appreciation for the value of the arts—to understand the beauty that comes from a true understanding of the basic principles of artistic expression. The stark beauty of structure is in the powerful promise of energy, enthusiasm, and renewal.