Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Art

When I was a child, my father would take me to art museums. Not to make this sound like we visited an art museum every week, because we didn't, still we popped into one or another maybe twice a year. In Seattle, Los Angeles, the Art Institute in Chicago, and so forth.

But the thing that struck me then, and that strikes me now when I visit such places, even the Louvre, is that it's a very unnatural way to see a picture.

Because in a museum, you can't see a single picture, by itself; the picture has uninvited company, hung shoulder to shoulder with others it never asked to meet. And even if you want to concentrate on a single painting, that's very difficult, because you're distracted by the one on the left and the right, and the halls and rooms that follow with further pictures. My eye travels, gets confused.

These men and women, they painted their picture to be seen as the only one, all alone, with a real estate unto itself. Not next to a Leonardo or a Van Gogh, fighting for attention. There is a point where too much significance becomes insignificant.

I guess my favorite art museum was the one with the impressionists, in Paris. As I recall, the place had once been a train station, with uneven wooden boards as flooring. I liked it because the paintings had something in common, but most of all, I liked it because a man I loved in Amsterdam took me there. And I probably studied his back as he viewed the paintings more than I studied the paintings themselves. Committing him to memory, the way he stood, with his shoulders and head straight and tall, not doing the head cocking thing to imply that I might be missing something.

That day I burned his image into my brain. Purposefully. His back,the straight crop of his blond hair just above his jacket, the elegant pleat in the upper part of his jacket just between his shoulder blades. I see him still, standing there, in front of some masterpiece or other.



30 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing something so very intimate. I read your words and had my version of him in my head. I had to smile and enjoy the strong , sweet memories formed in my youth.

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  3. an aside - Jp lit (medieval and on) has a reference to watching someone leaving - seeing only their back, if you will. A very emotive phrase, actually, like cherry blossoms signifying spring, and so on. Yet, achingly so - so much meaning packed into a few words, an undercurrent of symbolism, culturally attuned. Latina lady gets it right away.
    Your posts so often are . . . wabi-sabi.

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  4. Yes, wabi-sabi.

    Some of the favorite pictures I haven't yet painted are of the backs of people looking at paintings.


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  5. This is a profound one. I felt the ache immediately, too.

    So glad I looked up wabi-sabi. It's amazing.

    Thanks, Karin and bandit.

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  6. Wonderful story. Wonderful memory.

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  7. I agree, going to a museum is a pretty lousy way to see art.

    As much as I appreciate being able to walk to LACMA at lunch, it bugs me to see a Rothko next to two Jackson Pollocks,as they were situated a few weeks ago. They may or may not be your favorite artists but there is a real clash in tone to put them next to each other.

    And if they were placed that way to spark a discussion, then the whole experience becomes just an academic exercise.

    And who needs that?

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  8. Ahhhh...a beautiful ache of a memory...

    I agree about museums...and especially about the Jeu de Pomme (sp?)..I'm assuming that's the Impressionist museum you were referring to...I don't think it's still there..or at least not the same as it was...I was there 30 years ago (I spent my 30th birthday in Paris!) and my very favorite museum was this one!!! I remember walking up the stairs and seeing Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party at the top of the stairs ...huge and absolutely fabulous. I had intended on buying a poster from there of one of the paintings that I liked...but when I went to the gift store, the posters were so lackluster compared to the extraordinary beauty of what I had just witnessed...I couldn't do it!!!

    Thanks for sharing such a poignant memory...

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  9. Wow! Makes me quite melancholy.

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  10. "These men and women, they painted their picture to be seen as the only one, all alone, with a real estate unto itself"

    No - I think they'd like to chose their neighbors instead. I've yet to meet an artist who didn't want to get their work out into the world; especially into a museum's permanent collection.

    But about the Dutch? yes, a fine people.

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  11. Poignant memories. Do you always think of him when you see that artwork he was in front of?

    I absolutely love what you write about seeing pictures all jumbled together when each should be viewed alone. I didn't get on with the Louvre, it was way too big and I got jaded. I walked quickly around the corridors looking only at the "highlights", famous pictures I knew from books. Kinda stupid way to view art, just seeing the paintings I knew anyway, but there was far too much of it there.

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  12. I've written wabi-sabi on my wall. A real wall, next to spezzatura. And wick.

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  13. That's a lovely piece of writing. Very poignant memory. Now I can see it in my mind, too....

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  14. Wow, what a memory. Thank you for taking us with you to that museum and letting us watch you study him. Glad to learn about wabi-sabi too. If you're interested in a fascinating book about the Parisian art world starting in the mid-1800s I recommend Ross King's The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism.

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  15. That's a lovely vision. I suddenly feel like a 25 year old.

    Bandit, I once went to Tokyo and the very first day I went sightseeing I watched the very end of a Shinto ceremony in a temple in a public park. I have no idea what they were doing but it was so ethereal, so completely out of my experience - I swear the air was pulsing after the priests left the staging area. Unforgettable.

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  16. Good stuff.

    It sounds like you created your own work of art in that moment.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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  17. This is lovely. What a picture you've painted here. It makes me ache for Paris and the bloom of young love.

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  18. Beautifully descriptive post. No photos necessary.

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  19. Am I the umpteenth person to ask what happened to him? Is the first installment? It's an interesting way to go at a romantic theme.

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  20. Beautiful. I agree about the juxtaposition of different paintings next to each other or in the same room. I think it affects my memories of the paintings (the company they keep). My favorite is the Art Institute in Chicago . . . can't wait to take my kids when they'll actually remember it (they went when they were both really little).

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  21. Lovely memories, Karin!
    So beautiful piece of writing.

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  22. Well. I'm not so sure. I think people have always collected art as a way to demonstrate wealth, and I think people have always flaunted that wealth by hanging pictures above, under, right, left of one another. Think of the Uffizi. Think of the Vatican. I think, if anything, we give art more room to noticed individually now than in the past.

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  23. I started at the end. Beginnings and endings are so much easier. I'll try the middle, one day in the middle, maybe I can get to the heart of the matter.

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  24. It was the Musee d'Orsay.

    I remember visiting the dining hall at Christ Church college at Oxford and seeing above the main table a painting of Henry VIII that I'd seen only in books. It stopped me cold because I realized this was where the painting had always hung, where it was meant to hang, the place it had been created for. I wonder how many paintings besides that one, if any, I've seen that were in the place they were created for.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/awv/3144842268/

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  25. That made my heart ache, just a little. Such beautiful writing. As an aside, I do love being in museums, and how all of that emotion pours out of the paintings, and I end up tired. A good reason to have a membership in a local museum or two - so you don't have to try to get your money's worth...

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  26. The Louvre, for me, is architecture and history. There is brilliant art there, but the building itself takes my breath away.

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