My Response to a Piece of Art

Note: I am writing about a piece of art as a response to Jason Reynolds’ WriteRightRite Tue., April 28, 2020 writing prompt video:
Pick a piece of art. Respond to it. How do you feel? What do you see? What are you thinking? What is the story behind it?

CLICK HERE to see the piece of art I chose.

I remember the first time I saw this painting. I was with a museum docent, ten kindergarteners, and a few parent chaperones. We obediently and silently followed the leader passed the fountain in the rotunda, down the immense hallway, a turn to the right and then left. Our voices turned off as our eyes widened to view the sculptures and paintings, all so many times taller than our humble bodies.

“Please sit and take a look at this painting,” she suggested. We all sat, criss-cross-applesauce, and looked up. Up at the enormous painting , 3 1/2 feet by 4 1/2 feet.

“I see a lady. I see a girl. I see a dog,” the docent stated as she gestured toward the three lifeforms depicted in the painting. “Now look closely. What opposites do you see? You know, opposites! Up – Down, In – Out, Open – Shut.
Raise your hand when you notice an opposite.”

Immediately, hands went up.

“I see the lady’s face but the girl’s back.”
“I see the lady’s hair is down but the girl’s hair is up.”
“I see the dog is asleep but the lady is awake.”
“I see the lady in blue with white buttons but the girl is in white with a blue bow.”

I sat mesmerized by all my 6-year old students were noticing. I also was mesmerized by all the decisions Edouard Manet made in 1873 as he painted The Railway. Using the lens of opposites, the docent cleverly had my students and I discussing composition.

I have returned to the National Gallery of Art many times since that kindergarten fieldtrip. Every time, I make a point of wandering the galleries to find this painting. I guess I want to say hello! Today, as I view it virtually, I see a girl named Mary Catherine and her mom. I see they are waiting for something. I wonder what so I simply ask:

“Mary Catherine, what are you waiting for?” She turns toward my voice and I notice her dangling earring gives a jiggle and I see the most intricate baby blue smocking across the front of her exquisite white dress.

“I’m waiting for my father but his train is late,” she says with a sigh. Then her eyes light up and she continues, “It’s my birthday and once he arrives, we are going to the restaurant of my choice and I get to order whatever I want and I think I will either order lobster or duck but I’ll ask to hear the specials of the day because it is a special day for me so maybe I’ll order one of the specials.”

She finally stops talking to take a breathe so I follow with this question, “What’s your dog’s name?”

“That’s Butterscotch. We named him after the color of his ears. He’s only three months old so we brought him along. He hates to be by himself at home. But after father’s train arrives, we will walk him home and set him in his crate. He can’t come to the restaurant!”

As I listen about the dog, I notice Mary Catherine’s mother. “Madam, what are you reading?”

“It’s a collection of poems. I do hope the train comes soon. I am almost done. Mary Catherine is so excited about dressing up and going out to a fancy dinner. Me, I’d rather change into comfortable clothes, curl up on the couch with Butterscotch and read all night long. She is so much like her father, always on the go, excited to explore and discover. Me, just give me a good book.”

“It’s coming! It’s HERE!!” Mary Catherine squeals as smoke from the approaching locomotive fills the space in front of the iron gate.

“Have a lovely birthday evening celebration!” I shout over the noise in The Railway.

NOTE: I am finding it doable to write to a prompt right now and Jason’s prompts are working for me. I am finding it harder to focus on reading and writing. Usually, I am anti-prompts because I what to offer choice and a prompt feels more like a mandate. However, now I see having the choice to write to a prompt is needed at times.

9 thoughts on “My Response to a Piece of Art

  1. TammyB says:

    I loved everything about this post!
    I had no idea Reynolds was doing these prompts. I have caught his IG lives with kids about merging two ideas. Thanks for the new prompts

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ms Victor Reads says:

    I love what you have done here- weaving in your memories of seeing the painting the first time and so many times afterward and then creating your own story from it. I totally get what you say about usually resisting prompts- I have just started a 90 day gratitude journal and while, in the past, I may have struggled with the prompts I find that now I appreciate the time where someone has limited my scope while the world feels so out of control. Maybe one day we can visit this painting together.


  3. sallydonnelly11 says:

    Oh Erika, it’s a date. I have to keep hoping that the world will return to open museums and air travel. But the current stay-home orders make me sad, too. I like how you worded – someone has limited my scope while the world feels out of control. That’s it exactly! Stay safe and well.


  4. mschiubookawrites says:

    I love this post as much as I love Jason Reynolds’ prompts! How you linked the artwork to a childhood memory and then expanded it into a work of fiction is delightful to read. Like you said, writing to a prompt is an appropriate choice to have.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mythmakersunite says:

    I think we’ve all had to get more creative in our writing because it feels a bit like we’re living in the movie “Groundhog Day.” We really don’t have much in the way of new experiences to provide us with spontaneous prompts. Prompts that are provided for us and other exercises help us delve more deeply into our imaginations and challenge our skills. It’s like we have limited ingredients at home and we have to come up with a meal. I love that challenge. And your responses to the prompts show skill and creativity. They are so great!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mgminer says:

    My favorite part was the name “Butterscotch” for the little dog. I don’t think I understood until I read your post the power of the opposites in this painting. I think I will start looking for that in other places. I remember loving this painting as a child. My mom let me get a postcard print of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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