This post was inspired by this article in the NYTimes about visitors to museums feeling tired and worn out from running to tag every piece of noteworthy art, rather than slowing down and enjoying what they find interesting.
I grew up in So Cal and had “done” LACMA with my mom and with school trips, as well as other kinds of museums. School trip instructors told me why I needed to like this or that, and I always felt I was missing something, because I didn’t see the play of light on the baby Jesus’ face having subliminal meaning, or the way the trees were placed as indicating, well, whatever. I was, in short, bored.
I had the same reaction in my art courses in college. I never felt the way they said I should feel.(Image can be seen full-size at Wikimedia)
When I was 20 I was at a two-week managerial retreat in upstate NY and had a weekend off. I went alone into NYC in August, when the city is about as deserted as it gets, not knowing what to expect. I spotted Diane Keaton, who I loved, and stalked her for a while. I figured she knew NYC, and I didn’t. It was all a bit intimidating. She arrived at the MET, where they had the Monet exhibit. I walked into a relatively empty room after Keaton, and on the wall was a room-sized waterlily painting. I did not leave for two hours, forgetting Keaton altogether. I was entranced. In that lovely large hall the painting floated on a wall soaring a bit overhead, if I remember. I also bought my first art tome, and now I could see the other paintings in the book as well. It was a bit like having sex the first time; it forever changes you.
During my early years practicing architecture, I had the pleasure of facing one of Billy Al Bengston’s Draculas (Iris), which sat across the aisle from my drawing table at Gensler. Again I fell in love with the subtleties of the painting in a way I would never have if I walked by it on the wall.
Eight years later I walked into the Jeu de Paume in Paris for a second exhibit that changed my life and the way I saw paintings. This was also Monet, and it featured his haystacks and the Rouen Cathedral. I spent the afternoon looking at a dozen paintings and understood that he was not painting the haystack or the cathedral, but the light.
When I started painting I had no qualms about painting the same image over and over, because it was not about the image, which I used as a way into exploring other interests. Monet and Bengston changed my life as an artist.
Now I rarely visit any museum with anyone who is not my soul mate in terms of seeing only what each of us wants to see, splitting up if need be, and taking all the time we have on any one thing if we like. I go to art galleries and museums on off days, and often spend time in front of one or two images — or walk through and leave if the curator’s presentation doesn’t speak to me. Curators have incredible power to make the viewer experience objects. I was not a Picasso fan until I saw an exhibit in Paris at the Centre Georges Pompidou, of several painters who were painting at the same time. Seeing Picasso along with Manet, Monet and other contemporaries allowed me to see him as the renegade thinker he was — which was lost on me when they droned on about it in art classes.
I recommend taking one’s time in a museum, as the article suggests. It is not Disneyland, where you want to hit all the rides for the whole experience. Art museums are like offerings at a banquet; you choose what appeals to you and savor the experience.
BTW, I HATE SELFIE TAKERS. I want to go nab their stupid phones out of their hands much like I want to turn a speedboat over on a reflective lake. Just saying.
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Thanks to Wikipedia for many images;
The second and third images are from Slifex and Grufnik, on their Flickr sites.