The Art Of Seeing Art
When was the last time you took a good look at some artwork? Really looked at it. Marveled in it! A lot of us go to exhibitions and we look at a lot of art, but we have not stared into it or sat there and entered the world of-the-art piece. I feel the first step in understanding any genre of art is to take it in by seeing deep into the artwork. You may find that every time you look at an artwork you find more new things unfolding in front of your eyes. Engaging this way with the artwork allows you to travel with the artist and sometimes arrive at a place were the artist had not yet conceived. The big differences between “looking” and “seeing,” is the importance of being present and undistracted, giving the artwork your full attention and allow it to unveil its mysteries to you.
“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at the picture for a second and think of it all your life.” -Joan Miro
When you stare into one of Mark Rothko's paintings, you are confronted by an endless sea of color. Mark Rothko said, he wants to invoke deep emotions in the viewer and that the viewer should be so overwhelmed with emotion that they will cry. On a trip to New York, I had the opportunity to spend the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My goal was to take in as much art as my feet would let me. If you have been there you know what I mean, if you have not picture a block long building with four floors, maybe five. This place is so massive and jam-packed with art of all kinds.
“The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully. This is critical to abstract art. Small differences make all the difference.” -Kirk Varnedoe
I immersed myself in the old masters and their complex composite and vigorous brushstrokes. Being at the museum is such a joyful place for me, I feel like a kid in a candy store every time. I went from room to room, taking in all that I could. I dissected the compositions of John Constable, compared the figurative techniques of John Singer Sargent’s impressionism and William Bouguereau’s romantic realism. It was a genuine treat to have my first In person encounter with Vincent Van Gogh and his wildly passionate brush strokes. When you see his paintings up close, you understand what Tom Keating was talking about when he said: the passion of Van Gogh cannot be duplicated, only loved.
They only had four of his paintings of flowers and I gave each one its proper attention. I spent time with the impressionist, Romantics, Dutch Masters and Abstract Expressionist. It was quite a surprise to find a William Turner on display. There were only two of his masterful works, I would say a somewhere around 30x40 inch (76.2 cm X 101.6 cm) in size. This was a smaller room with about 6 other paintings and a welcoming bench to sit on. Since most of the crowd went off to see the Claude Monet’s, Willem de Kooning’s and Rembrandt’s, they left me to take in the Turner. The colors were soft with bold brushstrokes and luminous cloud piercing light. As in a great deal of Turners paintings, there was no overlooking the power of the raging sky. I sat with the Turner’s at least 10 minutes gazing into the abyss of the movement and light. I also think I sat there because I was truly getting tired, hungry, and my feet were starting to hurt. But it was time to move on, there’s so much more to see. I started my mission at the museum opening and was not leaving till I saw everything. What a task, but I did it.
On a different museum adventure at the Portland Art Museum. This is another massive place with two buildings of art. It’s cool how they made this place. You start in one building and follow the exhibit underground to the next build and boom… theirs more art to love. The Portland Art Museum is nowhere near the size of Metropolitan Museum of Art, but very impressive and jammed packed with great art.
One of the weirdest experiences there was when I came across the Damien Hirst room. I’ll admit, I’m not a big Damien Hirst fan, but having the opportunity to experience his artwork was one I was not going to pass up. The museum designated an entire room to his cherry blossoms artworks. These pieces are very massive and I believe there were about 12 to 15 of them in this room. First, I stood at the door taking in the grandview of the exhibit. It was wall to wall giant cherry blossoms from floor to ceiling with one bench in the middle room to sit on. I walked in a circular pattern along each painting, stopping at marveling at the grand scale of each one. When I reached the last one, I reversed my action of seeing them all over again before sitting down. It was extremely peaceful to have the room all to myself.
The paint strokes suggested they were done extremely fast, and the flowers were compiled of large globs of paint. You could feel the pink color of the blossoms everywhere and the slashes of green accenting the warm colors. The construction of the paintings were very simple with abstract brushstrokes to create branches to hold the buds and flowers. But there was real harmony in the color choices and a unmistakable boldness and size to them. I remember hearing Kerry James Marshall say; you may not like my artwork, but you can’t deny you saw it.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas.
As a student of art, I take-in the lessons from all artists and genres. In Hirst’s case, the sheer size of the artworks was what was needed to create an environment that calls for deep seeing and full attention. Each artwork demands that the artist give every painting what it wants and no more.
“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of our eyes.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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