Exploring the nature of artistic inspiration and the relationship between art and life, the picture book Emma by Wendy Kesselman tells the story of Emma, who is seventy-two years old, lives alone with her cat and sometimes is “very lonely.” For her birthday, Emma’s family gives her a painting of her childhood village, and Emma thinks to herself that the painting really doesn’t resemble her memories of her village. She begins painting her village as she remembers it, and goes on to paint many other paintings, which surround Emma with the “friends and places she loved.”
Emma’s artistic inspiration seems to come from inside, from the way she remembers her life. What role does memory play in art? Is the way each of us sees the world unique? Are we then all artists, or does being an artist require some expression of our perspective?
The book’s illustrations illuminate the changes in Emma as she begins painting. Smiling instead of frowning, she seems to come alive as the story progresses. Can expressing ourselves through art change the way we feel about ourselves? What is the relationship between our feelings and our aesthetic experiences?