Friday, August 13, 2010

About the Rewards of Art

What does anyone want from a painting? Why do large numbers of people stare at them in museums and galleries? I make them so I owe it to myself to answer the question and to look into my own reasons for looking at paintings. Now in addition to seeing them in buildings, I search them out on the web. Of course the immediate answer is that I learn by looking at how someone else did it.

The question came up for me yesterday when I saw this at Alyson Stanfield’s web site: Matisse said art should be “something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I find that respite in some paintings, an oasis of serenity to sink into. Monet and Bonnard come to mind. Sometimes a painted work brings a smile, not of humor perceived, but rather of pleasure felt. I think Howard Hodgkins or Sean Scully, both makers of beautiful paintings. Some works are disturbing and bring pain as do Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Tres de Mayo. Richard Diebenkorn provides the thrill of seeing what a sharp intelligence can do to turn paint and canvas into an object of splendor. The greatest reward for me is an immediate feeling of recognition, as in: “Ah, yes, I know”. That is the moment that the artist and I have met.

I like to visit museums alone. I need to keep the dialogue between my self and the artist. I have a dear friend who knows far more about art and art history than I can hold in my brain and who often accompanies me to museums. I am happiest when he refrains from explaining symbolisms and references. What care I if the message I get was not intended? It is for myself that I visit the art, not for the artist.


  1. I really do like peeking into an artist’s head and hearing that you consider this question, for yourself as an art viewer, and also as an artist.

    I sometimes drive 4 ½ hours to Chicago for a day alone in the Art Institute. Floating in my head are Monet's haystacks, so those must be the main draw for me, and the desire for beauty. But I wander the moderns and some of the Renaissance rooms too. I need Rothko, for the color (your colors are so alive, I would go to see yours). And I always want to see special exhibits. My husband took one art history course, and his help added to my understanding too. It’s always a question, isn’t it, whether an artist’s (or writer’s, or musician’s) life enhances or detracts from their work. I like knowing more of the context of the life, but as you say, do I want to know if they intended something?

    While Guernica is not exactly a comfort, I agree with you that the recognition of something known within myself upon seeing and feeling it, is satisfying. Even ugliness can be beautiful.

    Sometimes just a glint in a portrait eye is enough to make my 9 hour round trip worthwhile, or a shimmer of organza, or a bold combination of colors. What’s great is that I never know just what is going to move me next museum visit.

  2. This blog operation does facilitate that peek into each others' heads, but as in many other situations in which we meet, we are choosing what will be knowable. I am wary of getting too close to who I really am. I don't mean that what is visible is a lie; I mean it's the least scary part to make public. For someone who is intensely private and has no problem with extended periods of solitude, blogging is out of character. But, then again, maybe it's a result of that life style. I do like meeting this way and being responded to.