A Day at the Museum

I would like to say that I can spend an entire day at the museum, taking in the art/history/learning and whatnot and retain all of this information for later use in sounding smart and sophisticated in places where that is helpful. Probably at a cocktail party or sitting on the sidelines of my child’s sporting event chatting with people to whom I have no idea what to actually chat about. I’m not a good chatter. But, I can’t – retain all that great information from the museums that is. I have been traveling for a couple of weeks now and have lost count of the museums, cathedrals, chapels, churches, and historical points of interest I have already seen. It has mostly all been wonderful but I don’t think I have retained enough to make me valuable as a chatterer yet. Here is what I have learned so far: Art is personal.

Yes I can appreciate the things I am supposed to appreciate about important pieces, the use of light in this way, the brightening of the palette, the shift in the approach to the chromatic scale, etc. But there is a thing about art that should be felt, not just seen. I once had a friend who was an artist accuse me of being ‘one of those people who like calendar art,’ said with great scorn and condescension. I said, ‘yes, I do like a lot of that art – it feels good when you stand in front of it.’ ‘You don’t get it then,’ was the response. So maybe I don’t get it, fine.

I went to stand in front of The Adoration of the Holy Lamb and what I thought was that it was a lot smaller than I expected. I had hoped to feel some great and powerful connection to God, what I felt was an appreciation for the panels with Adam and Eve, the rawness of their exposure and simplicity in contrast to the complexity of the adorers in the other panels created a peacefulness that evoked the garden of eden and a return to grace. In the same cathedral I also really enjoyed the 11th and 12th century artistic veneration on the crumbling walls of the crypt. For me that was such a connection to all of the people through all of time who have been striving after understanding. The enormous Reubens with the flying nude was transporting, and it made me laugh after having read how Reubens really painted whatever scene available that involved nudes, the more the better.

Whenever I am presented the opportunity to see works by Gauguin I am reminded how much I like the way I feel when I look at that art. I had never seen the Green Christ before but it felt similar to the non-religious works in its softness of line and feature, the lively colors that feel human and passionate, the openness of the subject to being a part of your world and including you in theirs. In the same museum I stood for a long time in front of the pieces carved from ivory and had a hard time seeing their beauty amidst the deep pain of the elephants that were sacrificed. I left that exhibit feeling small and helpless and angry and despondent. I suppose all things art is supposed to evoke some of the time.

Yesterday I went to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Brugge. I was supposed to feel awe and I did. For me there is magic in his work, there is a piece of life and the soul in the cold marble. I felt the pain of mothers letting go of their children, knowing what pain will be in the world and not having the power to stop it or protect them. I felt the pulling away of the child, not knowing to appreciate that his mother is there only wanting to go and do and be, even without knowing what that means. I felt her love and her resignation, I felt her  humanity and his innocence. My daughter’s response was ‘meh, it was nice but not my favorite.’

So that is art and that is me. I don’t see myself sitting in the bleachers at the football game chatting about how the experience of art made me feel. I also don’t want to sounds like a pretentious git so won’t be wanting to talk about the this and the that that I saw or did. I am taking some notes along the way (ask me about the Vikings – that was a cool exhibit), but I might be missing something important I know I have already forgotten a lot, certainly more that I have retained. Oh well – maybe I can buy a calendar with a ‘best of’ to remember.

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