Thursday, March 18, 2010

Seeing Art

Why do people go to art galleries? What’s the motivation? What are they coming to see? Are they on a field trip? Are they there with family? Alone? Are they studying? Are they teaching?

For me it is the aesthetic, of course, as it no doubt is for most. But it’s also the peaceful, sublime moments spent with true genius.

If a piece really grabs me I’ll stand close, examine the brush strokes, the colors. I’ll move back and take it all in. Consider the composition. Why did the artist put that there? Where is the light coming from?

I never studied art history. I’m not a connoisseur. I’m your typical “I like what I like” honyock. Rembrandt and Monet appeal to me. I don’t get Rothko at all. Art Nouveau? Not so much.

But whatever… it’s the full experience for me. The light shuffling of feet echoing in the spacious rooms. The overheard whispers of derision or praise. The slight chill of the properly maintained ambient air. Even the soreness in my lower back that creeps in about halfway through from too much time on my feet, arching to look up. I relish it all.

For others, I’ve recently noticed, it seems the desire to document their visit is stronger than the need to experience the art itself. Standing in front of the Mona Lisa, holding out the phone, and clicking away…. hoping to get yourself in it along with the painting. This may take a couple tries. Or get a friend or stranger to do it for you. Or just walk right up take a picture of the painting and move on. No time to really see it.

This was the prevalent behavior at each museum we visited in Paris. From the Louvre to the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee du Moyen Age, it was the same. There were certainly many visitors with no electronic contraption of any kind in their hands, just there to embrace the art. But it was surprising to see the number of individuals who only appeared to have a drive-by experience. Shoot and run… keep moving. Click—ooh, there’s the Venus di Milo—click—hey, over there, Van Gough!—click…

It was fascinating to witness.

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