Broken Colors Michelle Zackheim (2007)
Broken Colors is a beautiful love story. It is about the love between two people, a beautiful and lifelike look at how love plays out. But the love and the beauty of the novel is so much deeper than that. Tragedy and pain permeates everything, and shapes the characters.
This book, though, is really an allegory of the creative process. It paints a sometimes painful yet satisfying picture of that process. We see the obstacles and disappointments that must occur for an artist’s work to have depth, resonance with other human (whose lives have also been full of the whole range of living).
The Artist’s Calling
“Choosing to be an artist… is choosing to mine deep caverns. It’s like getting lost in the darkness and spending the rest of your life trying to find your way.” (p.34)
Every character in this novel has creative talent, a gift for artistic expression. The main character, Sophie, is raised by her grandparents, who give her advice and direction on finding herself as an artist. This gives a great warmth and beauty to the first section that any creative person can envy. The envy of Sophie soon ends as war and repeated tragedies strike her life.
We see that through her life’s journey, and the external forces of the world conspiring against her, that Sophie is indistinguishable from her artistic nature.
Creation versus Destruction
The novel sets the destructive force of war against the resilience of the creative spirit. Creative forces are a necessary part of life, an important one, and Sophie’s life proves that she could not survive without them. Violent and destructive forces, whether in our individual lives or part of larger world events, are also necessary. In a way, they prove the need for creativity and for artistic people in our world. These two forces are connected, they need each other and feed off of one another.
“All my life, every time I’ve finished a painting, it feels like a part of me dies. And every time… I send off a body of work to an exhibition, it feels like a funeral. The paintings are finished, and I’m bereft. And then I remember, yet again, how much nothingness there is.” (pp.245-246)
The act of creating literally builds the world, connections between people, and helps the artist to heal. Art connects to the natural world. Sophie’s paintings get literally buried in the earth, and both nature and time provide “an astonishing metamorphosis…had transformed the paintings colors. Light, although dappled from all the trees, was illuminating the canvas as if it had been made in another world” (p.168).
A Lifetime as a Work of Art
As a story of an artist, one of the most satisfying parts of the story is getting to see Sophie’s development over time, her relationship with art. She begins as a child exploring the creative world in a supportive environment. Once that idyllic world is ripped away, she sometimes drifts away from it, but the art comes back and helps her heal. It helps her find her center. She attracts friends, lovers and others who also have creative paths.
We see the thread of her art/life connection continue into old age, and how that spirit is changed but not diminished. Art serves as a way that people connect with one another, and the act of painting someone’s portrait is the ultimate connection for Sophie. It is like making love.
The seasons of a person’s life change, and each part of life changes too. Each part of life affects the others and how that person understands herself and others.
Michele Zackheim presents many different artists, each different in personality/temperament and medium. Virtually every character in the book has a creative calling. But you don’t have to be an artistic person to see yourself in this story, even though all people do have creative powers and potentials. The very act of living a life, experiencing love, experiencing pain, following our path where our passions lead us, is a creative act. And that creative act can survive no matter what the obstacles the world presents us.
“I often think about the passage of time; how there’s no end to the beginning. We travel through time in constant movement. Even now, when we’re sitting still, the universe is moving; the earth is moving; the blood in our bodies, the oxygen in our molecules, our minds– all are moving. Nothing is ever truly still.” (pp. 225-226)