Thursday, February 25, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Pierre-Auguste Renoir

This week (February 25) marks the 169th birthday of Pierre-August Renoir.

Now I freely admit I am not an illustrator or an artist. I am frankly in awe of anyone who can make his hand transfer to canvas what his mind's eye sees. Mine simply does not comply, and it is a sad kind of dumbness. I've always been particularly in awe of the impressionist painters. To be able not just to portray a scene but to subtly suggest it through splashes of colors has always intrigued me.

But it is something that Renoir said rather than something he painted which truly speaks to me. "When I've painted a woman's bottom so that I want to touch it, then [the painting] is finished," he once said. Ah, now this is something I understand.

True, I will probably never have call to write the words "woman's bottom" again. I AM a chilren's writer after all. But I fully understand the desire to create so faithful an illusion that it rivals reality. In writing, this is the "you are there" goal. With every biography I write, I strive to build an image of a very real place and time using words as my paint. Then I invite my readers in.

In my biography of Babe Didrikson, for example (BABE DIDRIKSON ZAHARIAS: ALL-AROUND ATHLETE, Lerner, 2000), I described the ticker-tape parade Babe was given after winning three medals at the 1932 Olympics. I described the car covered in roses, the sound of the cheering crowd, and Babe's thrill at being honored. "Even though it was a hot day, her arms had goosebumps." Every time I read that line, I get goosebumps myself.

I guess Babe's goosebumps are for me what Renoir's lady bottoms were for him.

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