My friend Ellen Farley, who teaches high school art and runs The Art Studio, recently made time to enter a plein air competition at Nash Gallery in Easthampton. The rules went something like this: the scene had to be painted outside within the city borders, and paper or canvas had to be stamped at the gallery five days before the showing, so no one could work ahead. Peter and I went to the show, which had many wonderful pictures of gardens, fields, houses, and roads. I liked Ellen’s the best.
This painting didn’t win a prize, but Ellen said it didn’t matter. She told me she parked by the road, asked a farmer if she was still in Easthampton, and when he told her yes, and saw her easel, he offered to lead her on his tractor to a spot he thought even prettier. Ellen was grateful to have spent two afternoons standing among Monarch butterflies looking at fields and a mountain she’s often seen from many different points.
I’m not as zen as I’d like to be. I can’t help wishing Ellen had won if not grand prize, at least one of the gift certificates offered by local businesses. I want my writing to get published and I want my candidate to get a second term in office. But I admire the way the Impressionists held to a credo of “no juries, no awards” to favor artistic freedom, and I try hard to remember that afternoons like Ellen’s painting in the field are the prize. As I start teaching writing again, that’s what I want my students to know, too. Sitting around the table, writing in ten minute spurts, daring to read something fresh aloud: our lives are pretty good.