Art? Fine.

I live in landscape hell.

I know that this is not the only place in the United States that people, when they find themselves there, are seized by the urge to release the visual artist they always wanted to be and probably never released before for good reason. 

It is said that on Cape Cod, you can throw a stone from your window and hit ten people who are writing a novel; I would water that, at least in summertime, the number of people you would strike who’ve set up an easel would be three times that.

This probably is equally the case near the Grand Canyon or in the French Quarter and in certain parts of Colorado (where people are so narcissistic about their environs that they don’t want you to visit but can’t imagine not wanting to rhapsodize with paint). 

Cape Cod has a long head start on this kind of activity, however, having been inhabited by people with leisure time on their hands for hundreds more years than many other spot. 

As someone who has never succumbed to the urge to pick up a brush other than to apply eye makeup or melted butter to a loaf of bread, even I must admit that the allure is intense, particularly on some July nights or early-winter evenings. 

Sometimes, people get so excited, they add in fantasy elements to the landscape already there. This is almost always a mistake.

However, some of these pictures by hobbyists turn out to be the finest of art.

And certainly,  many, many wonderful painters (and photographers) have immortalized Cape Cod.

Perhaps the most famous of these is Edward Hopper. Best-known for his iconic painting ‘Nighthawks,’ of people hoping for better in a New York diner, Hopper also created some of  the most poignant, lighthearted and atmospheric of all Cape Cod vistas, such as this one above, called ‘Cape Cod Evening.’

Joel Meyerowitz, the renowned street photographer who created ‘Aftermath,’ an archive of more than 5,000 images of destruction and recovery at ground zero on the day of the 9/11 attacks and many months later, also found enormous inspiration on Cape Cod. 

His tender and sometimes whimsical pictures near the sea are prized the world over for, among other things, their understanding of light.

(Meyerowitz has no idea, and no need I guess, to know that another kind of immortality is headed his way next year when he is discussed, with David Doubliet, as among greatest influences on the fictional photographer Frankie Attleboro, who is the protagonist of my upcoming novel.)

There are, of course, worse places to live than the kind of place that inspires artists – even the happiest and most innocent of hobby artists.

I have a friend down the road who says that she can be inside the house sorting through the bills she owes and feeling like Sisyphus – but then step outside and feel like a billionaire. And despite being someone whose relationship with the great outdoors is not great on a good day, I am dragged to celebrating that.

What comprises that magic is the light, as the poet said, the magic of edges. Here at the eastern edge of the wide and unwieldy United States, the light has an extraordinary sort of fragility, which reminds us that it – and we – are not eternal. – JM

Leave a Comment