Among the professional material I managed to read during Retreat Week was the November/December, 2010 Horn Book. To be perfectly honest, I started it in the car on the way home and finished it on the treadmill this morning.
Now that I have that mind-numbing detail off my chest, we can get to Anita Lobel's marvelous article I Did It Sideways, adapted from her 2010 Zena Sutherland Lecture, which was included in this Horn Book issue. Lobel has lived a fascinating life in a dramatic and arty mid-twentieth century way. One of the fine aspects of her article is that I think it really gives a reader a handle on how an artist's life becomes part of her work.
In addition, Lobel tells a wonderful story about going to the movies with some art school friends to see Laurence Olivier's Henry V. With them was a young woman who spent her time in the theater filling a sketchbook with "very skilled horses drawings." Lobel goes on to say of her, "When it came to putting an emotional spin on a picture with horses, though, her work was not so good. 'If you can draw, you can do anything,' was something I often heard in drawing class. That is really not so. If you can draw, you can draw. Period."
That recollection just jumped off the page at me, because I think it's true of writing, also. So often I've read books that were well-written. But something just wasn't there. Being able to write isn't enough. You have to be able to do something more, and maybe it is just "emotional spin," as Lobel says.
Here's another mind-numbing detail for you: Years ago Anita Lobel and I had dinner together in the sense that we were in the same room. We weren't seated at the same table, and we never met, but we were breathing the same air and eating the same food. I am ashamed to say that at that point I only knew her as an artist who had been married to Arnold Lobel, whose Frog and Toad books were greatly loved at Chez Gauthier. (And still in our attic.) Clearly Anita Lobel is a great deal more than someone's wife.