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Posted: August 4, 2013 in Arts
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Street in Venice (detail) – John Singer Sargent

Street in Venice (detail) – John Singer Sargent

A few weeks ago we went to Washington D.C for a brief visit, just a couple of days. You can only do so much over 48 hours, especially when you sleep 16 of them. But despite the multitude of cool stuff within reach, we all agreed to make time for the dual-winged National Gallery of Art.

Museums do interesting things to me. My back inevitably hurts after a while. Blame the slow, aimless meandering. I also experience the same discomfort in malls, the museums of suburbia if you will. Sure malls don’t have the art, architecture, culture, and generally good vibes of a museum, but they both sport overpriced merchandise no one really needs, so there’s that. Thankfully the folks who run real museums understand their swag is meant to be savored. They offer plenty of comfortable seating so one can plop one’s arse down and savor whatever happens to be in one’s view. This helps rejuvenate the back and leads to more aimless meandering and, eventually, more back pain, resting and reflection. Clearly malls have no savory allure, save Aunt Anne’s pretzels. And yes, they also offer seats for the weary, although no one wants to spend too much time contemplating what flits past those hotspots.

Cape Cod Evening (detail) – Edward Hooper

Cape Cod Evening (detail) – Edward Hooper

The difference is museum back pain is worth it. Whenever I chance upon an interesting painting I feel an odd combination of envy and fascination. The envy is easy to understand. Show me anything creative and far beyond my capabilities to produce and the little green monster stirs. I love paintings, but cannot draw, much less paint. This is one reason I am drawn to photography. The scene is already painted for me, as it were. In essence all I have to do is capture it. Not as easy as it sounds, but at least it is occasionally attainable. If I tried to capture a landscape or street scene using a paint brush it would look like a post-apocalyptic horror show or, more likely, runny oatmeal.

Jealousy quickly turns to fascination. I am especially drawn to details. I like to get close and see if I can figure out, on a purely technical level, how the artist was able to do what they did. After intense study what I usually conclude is I am simply seeing brushstrokes on a canvas. Somehow reaching this conclusion should not require “intense study.” (Shrugs) Yet it is fascinating how something so elementary can strike such an emotional chord. Of course this has everything to do with thousands of brushstrokes working together in specific combinations, not individual ones divorced from the whole.

Wind from the Sea (detail) – Andrew Wyeth

Wind from the Sea (detail) – Andrew Wyeth

Putting aside the mysteries of technique and considering the work in toto I find myself drawn to another kind of detail, the scenes within the scene. I focus on people sitting in the background as a woman strolls past two men, the docked boat as a couple gazes at the harbor, the parched grass beyond the curtains blowing in the breeze. I envision backstories and motivations, actions and reactions. I create my own world around the artist’s world. I suppose this could be called inspiration. It certainly feels like it.

Often these scenes are central to the entire work, but not always. Whatever their overall importance I find great pleasure in these details. They stoke my imagination while providing another opportunity to rest my back. All in all it is a pretty solid deal.

Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (detail) – Winslow Homer

Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (detail) – Winslow Homer

View from Vaekero near Christiania (detail) – Johan Christian Dahl

View from Vaekero near Christiania (detail) – Johan Christian Dahl

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Comments
  1. BrainRants says:

    I am a fan of J.S. Sargent. The others are up there in his league as well!

    Like

  2. sparklebumps says:

    Hmm, is that why my back hurts so? Because I am so slowly and aimlessly wandering through life? Here I thought there was another reason… er, reasons. Ha. I do so love to wonder how artists did what they did too! This post reminds me of the time I was looking for Mona Lisa in the Louvre… I never did find her, but I saw awesome stuff along the way. Maybe one day you will be admiring the details of MY paintings, when they are displayed in an awesome gallery. That would be epic.

    Like

  3. Kayjai says:

    Love the art…hate the back pain. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. H.E. ELLIS says:

    I loved the Winslow Homer piece. It must have been amazing to see it up close. Sorry about the back pain, though.

    Like

  5. Always loved Wyeth

    Like

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