Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
I initially got interested in art back in undergraduate school around 1972. I took a Humanities course at New York Institute of Technology and the Professor who’s name I can’t remember introduced the class to Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists. I had to write a paper about Van Gogh and researching him fascinated me. I actually enjoyed writing the paper and it spurred my interest to buy a coffee table art book about his life and art. I still have that book to this day. Its funny how a teacher can be a catalyst for ones direction and passion in life.
One of my favorite things to do is to spend a day at a great museum. Today I spent the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I love roaming the the galleries filled with great art created through the ages. There is so much mystery and information embedded in art. There is so much more to it than initially meets the eye. Most people walk up to a work of art and just see it “face value”. They either like it or they don’t, but have difficulty explaining why.
Most viewers of art don’t have to tools that enable him/her to peal the layers off a great painting for example. A person may like a Monet landscape because its pretty and serene and makes them feel good, however they really don’t know the WHY or HOW behind the creation of the painting itself.
That same viewer may move to the Romanticism Gallery and stand in front of a Goya and be totally turned off by the ominous/traumatic subject matter and dark, oppressively contrasting colors.Yet the Goya is still a great painting because it elicits an emotional response from the viewer even if it is a disturbing, distasteful, even gross reaction to Saturn Devouring His Son.
All art is not suppose to be pretty and serene like the Monet. So its important for would be museum goers to educate themselves to some basic art viewing techniques and visual literacy fundamentals.
Do a little research about the museum and its collection before your visit. What types of art do they have on display. Then investigate that art style and period, in addition to some of the artists that worked during that period of art history.
What is it about a Caravaggio painting from the Baroque period that disturbs you and/or makes you feel anxious and uneasy? You’ll learn it’s more than just the subject matter itself that elicits certain emotional responses. The earthy colors play a role and the harsh contrasts between light and dark called chiaroscuro. The diagonal line direction leading to the focal point of Goliath’s head all reinforce certain feelings and emotions you may have towards a painting like Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath.
Can you feel Van Gogh’s intense passion and intensity busting out of his Starry Night painting? Much of this is caused by the swirling / jagged undulating lines and fluid spinning shapes clashing between the warm and cool colors. His paint is applied very thick so texture (impasto) plays a role in reinforcing the visual intensity of his famous painting.
Now walk into the next gallery and stand in front of John Constable’s landscape painting the Haywain posted below. I would imagine an entirely different set of emotions / feelings are unleashed in you. Its calm, serene, peaceful, romantic and nostalgic. Constables painting elicits a sense of inner peace and tranquility – very different from the Caravaggio and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. These feelings are reinforced /enhanced by the horizontal lines in the composition, the S-Curve in the meandering flowing river, in addition to the puffy white clouds and green trees all topped off by the man in the wagon being pulled by the horses in the middle of the stream. Hmmm I wonder why he’s in the stream and not along side it? Lots of questions still left unanswered and that’s why art can also be mysterious and leave us with unanswered questions IF you take time to really LOOK at a work of great art. Seriously scrutinize it! Extract the tiny details and see how much information you can pull out of it instead of just walking up to it and immediately draw a conclusion as to liking it or disliking it and then moving on to the next painting, photo or statue.
Visiting a museum or art gallery can be a uniquely enriching experience if you just spend a little time educating yourself to the basics of art analysis. You don’t have to have a doctorate in Art History to truly enjoy and appreciate art. Art can give us deeper insight into the human experience and maybe even ourselves.
Art created through the ages essentially addresses the important issues and concerns of any given culture / society in history. We see this demonstrated from the prehistoric paintings on the walls of caves to the Egyptians and their fascination with death and the afterlife to the Greeks and the concept of “Man is the measure of all things” and Christians using art to Spread the Word of God all the way to Jackson Pollock dripping paint on his giant canvases…..etc.
Without a basic understanding of the historical context in art through the ages and the visual elements of design we as viewers cannot truly extract (glean) all the information embedded in that work of art. Viewing art can be such an enjoyable and enriching experience if you have a basic understanding of the visual language and historical perspectives of art.
Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like to be living in medieval times. No creature comforts like we have today.
Each gallery in the MET gives me a glimpse into the hearts, minds and souls of those who came before us. I think what it would be like to be a knight and wear a suit of a armor carrying a long heavy sword.
I ask myself while walking through the Egyptian halls how ancient Egyptians moved and carved out those giant blocks of stone and placed them perfectly into the pyramids. How did the ancient Greeks build the Parthenon with such limited antiquated technology? The art and architecture created in the past is a testament to the human spirit.
Every photograph, drawing, etching, drawing, sculpture etc., communicates a story – it may be a tiny sliver of a story about the artist, his/her subject and/or the world he/she lived it at the time the art was created.
I’m sitting among the great Impressionists as I write this in my journal. Monet, Manet, Renoir and Degas. Their paintings speak to me. Whisper in my ear sharing little tidbits from another time and place late in the 1800’s in France. Degas’s Ballerinas dance and strike poses, his horses gallop and his portraits stare back at me through their frames from another time in history. I wonder what these people being depicted are thinking. Some convey sadness, introspection, joy, worry, anxiety. Many of the same emotions and feelings we confront today in our lives. Rejection, fear, confusion, worry, sickness, death and torment.
I could spend an hour just sitting in the middle of the Impressionists Gallery. Everywhere I turn their is another window into a another world, another time, another heart, another human soul.
The one thing that disturbs me lately is how so many museum goers walk around each gallery with cell phones in hand taking snapshots and/or selfies of the art instead of really LOOKING at it and trying to understand and possibly gain some insight from it. It’s sad really – at least in my opinion. It seems it is more about being there in front of the Picasso for example than it is experiencing the painting itself.