Did you ever have a friend, with whom you spoke regularly, and then for some reason one of you was unavailable to talk, so you got behind, and then you put off calling them because it’d be a longer conversation than usual as you had so much to catch up on… and then it got to be a little awkward because you suddenly realized a rather embarrassing amount of time had gone by and not only did you have a long list of things to catch up on, but you also now needed to explain why you’ve been out of contact for so long?
Right. So. Hello blog, it’s me again. Have you got a minute?
I am on spring break from school right now. This isn’t as special as it was when I was taking full-time classes, but I did have off from my assistantships, which has been a glorious bout of relaxation.
Last week I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in art museums, which is ordinarily a heavenly experience, but it was slightly dampened by maintaining head counts of undergrads. Oh also, I was so sick that I frequently had to escape to adjacent galleries to have coughing fits, and I sucked on so many vitamin C drops that I think my tongue shrank.
Tuesday was awesome – a bright, sunny day, and I was up early and at the Met. Because I’m the world’s friendliest TA, I stood three feet away from my class and didn’t recognize any of them until the professor showed up. I rule.
As we walked to the Frick, we noticed a media circus outside of an apartment building on 5th Ave, which it turns out is where Eliot Spitzer lives. People were waiting to catch a glimpse of him or his Belmar call-girl (ha!), but I later learned they did not.
At the Frick, my professor noticed Jodie Foster entering just before us, and we stood next to her while paying. For the five years I’ve lived in Brooklyn and gone into Manhattan, I think the only non-artist “celebrity” sighting I’ve ever really had was Topher from the reality show The Restaurant… though he was my waiter, so I feel like that gives it some flair.
I got angrily gestured at for taking this photo of the garden court at the Frick:
I had a little time between the morning and afternoon classes, so I grabbed a lamb gyro from a vendor with the most arrestingly beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen (and it didn’t occur to me to ask for her photo until I walked a few more blocks to the park, damn it).
I ate lunch in the park and strolled around taking a few pictures, enjoying the sun. (I made a Flickr set of Central Park & Nearby, in case you want to see some more).
An Italian friend once said he thought all Americans look good in sunglasses. I think I disprove this theory.
My glasses do, however, have a remarkable ability to turn sunlight into exuberance, by casting a warm tint on everything. Compare:
I also found proof positive that it is in fact almost spring:
There were many more in a bush, chirping merrily away. Hoorays.
When I returned to the Frick, I was the first one there, so my students recognized me. Score one for the afternoon class. When my professor introduced me in the beginning of the semester, she made it very clear to them that I would be grading all their assignments and exams, and she eve
n said “So be nice to her.” Morning class might have paid a little more attention…
I was going slowly the second time through the Frick, since it’s not a very big place, and I’d only really left myself a few rooms that I hadn’t seen in the morning. I also had to escape frequently to the downstairs lounge to gulp water through coughing fits. Awesome.
On the second or third trip downstairs (I can’t imagine what the security guards thought), I realized I had to pee, so I went into the bathroom, where there was one other stall occupied (I swear this becomes relevant and I’m not just being weirdly over-personal). I peed, and as I came out to wash my hands, there was Jodie Foster, washing hers. Whoa. I didn’t realize she was still there. I smiled at her in the mirror, and the thoughts that went through my mind included “I am alone in a room with Jodie Foster. Jodie Foster is like two feet away from me. I just peed next to Jodie Foster!” and so on.
I texted my brother with the last of these revelations, and he and my father both responded that they hoped it was in a bathroom stall and not, say, on the floor of a gallery.
I wanted to geek out and say something or ask for a photo, but we were in a bathroom and really, she wasn’t working – she was there for the art. Art museums are kind of sacred places to me, so as much as I was being a douche in my head, I couldn’t muster more than a “hi” and a smile in person. Don’t want to pull aHinckley, yknow?
I did, however, stalk her for a few minutes during the rest of the afternoon, watching her with the audio guide contemplating a painting, looking very thoughtfully and considering it carefully. I was happy for her, that of all the things she could do on a Tuesday, she was spending several hours at an art museum, and she was really enjoying the art. Hooray Jodie Foster.
(My grandmother, by the way, said she never thought I’d be a name-dropper. I assured her this is only because I don’t frequently have names to drop).
I spent the rest of my time at the Frick absolutely entranced by Bellini’s St Francis in the Desert. The colors here are really off, but in person, it is stunning, especially the way he paints the rocks.
The afternoon class ran right to closing at the Met, and the highlight of my life was buying heavy-duty drugs at a pharmacy on the way home. I collapsed asleep, thinking “Argh, I gotta do it again tomorrow.”
Where Wednesday lost over Tuesday is that I didn’t bring my camera. Where it significantly housed Tuesday is that class started at 10, ended at 12:30, and the whole thing was at the Met. I was much sicker and coughing a lot more frequently than the day before, so much so that I would more accurately describe the morning as “coughing with occasional breaks to look at art.” Even the students felt bad, and a few said “Feel better” and “get some rest” as they said good-bye. I’ve been blaming them for getting alien flu all over their exams and making me sick in the first place, so this was actually consoling.
With the afternoon free, I was going to visit one or two of my favorite paintings, then head home, but on the way to the Georgia O’Keeffes, I realized they had reopened the 19th century European painting wing, which has been closed for reinstallation as long as I can remember. Oh happy day!
As I walked through the galleries of Impressionists and scenic painters traveling to Italy (oh what a thrill to recognize all the subjects now), I noticed that everyone in the galleries was smiling, light-hearted, and enjoying themselves. I wanted to attribute it to the cheerful color palette and the bucolic settings for relaxing images. There is something so carefree and just plain lovely about the playful brushwork describing a jar full of irises that rescues it from frivolity and moves it straight into the heart of joy. The same subjects, painted in the scope of the Renaissance or Baroque (of which I’d seen countless examples in the past two days) felt dour and over-encumbered by the weight of the world. Such gravity felt foreign to these happy flowers or revelers dressed in linen pants and striped shirts in a gazebo with dappled sunlight filtering onto dark water. It was hypnotic and rich with the sensation of sunny afternoon light and back-lit foliage, such a refreshing break from the austerity of religious subjects and the severity of previous centuries’ masterpieces.
I surprised myself with the overwhelming joy I felt, the intense and pure happiness. I know this has very real ramifications for me as a painter, and I have not thought through them all yet, but it’s really quite thrilling.
I saved the two rooms of Van Goghs for last because I knew they would be the highlights, and man, he did not disappoint. I stood there with tears in my eyes, staring at the brush strokes and colors dancing together. I thought about how it must have felt, as a painter, to see these shapes forming from his hand, to mix on a palette dominated by orange and green and come up with such glowing, intense colors. I looked at the cake frosting impasto, and I thought about other artists who have tried to mimic the liveliness and energy contained in it – no one has ever done it like him.
I stayed in front of my favorite Van Gogh (Wheat Field with Cypresses) for about a half hour, just smiling with tears pouring down my cheeks. I am quite sure I looked insane, whispering to myself occasionally and standing up quickly to look at a different portion I hadn’t thoroughly examined yet. It was ecstasy, in its purest form, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that when I finally made my way down to the Georgias (which are usually the paintings I spend the most time with), they completely paled in comparison.
I thought about painting all through lunch (sausage pizza, a bottle of apple juice and an insane pear tart – I was pouting about feeling sick), and I walked about mesmerized by what I’d seen. I thought about a scene in a movie I’d just re-watched (A Seas
on of Giants, a miniseries which aired on TNT in 1991 and has never been shown again and I can’t find on VHS or DVD), where Raphael was asking Michelangelo for advice as a painter. Michelangelo argued that he was a sculptor, not a painter, but Raphael persisted, saying well if you were a painter, what advice would you give? Michelangelo said he could only offer Donatello’s advice:
Draw. Draw and don’t waste time.
I have no idea about the historical accuracy of this advice, but it’s good. I added a second note for myself: Work from nature. Nature is ultimately timeless, always relevant, poignant, and able to reach into people’s souls throughout the centuries. We are viscerally connected with nature and no amount of skyscrapers or nudes is going to do it for me the way a flower will. I have thousands and thousands of reference photos taken out in nature, yet I usually work from my imagination, making abstract blobby undersea forms.
Now I realize the solution has been in front of me for years (and I’ve realized this before, probably just about this time last year): Paint from nature. And draw more.
Eric came home from Connecticut on Wednesday, and it has been a delight to have him back. I do in fact have a lot more catching-up to do, but I fear I’ve already written way too much. I will take a lunch break and resume in a new entry.