a glimpse of understanding happens only in the humble


Last week while Daniel sat at the feet of the great philosophical minds of our time (and even had a face to face chat with one of them), I sat at the feet of so many masterpieces,the artistic equivalent, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, beginning to glean meaning.

It is hard to believe.

That it has taken so many years for me to embark on this part of my artistic path, the understanding of the masters. Granted, there is a lifetime's worth to learn, but I guess this cracking of the door for me is in part the recognition that there is something to learn, and then getting glimpses of thoughts that come together making sense. It is a unique sensation.

Like being in elementary math when the teacher explains some equation for the fifth time and suddenly the clouds begin to lift and you get it...really get it and it is like the proverbial light bulb went of in your head. Along with that tiny enlightenment there is a sense of wonder and hope and yearning for more. (Ok I admit that a math metaphor is probably not the best example coming from me because I sucked at math, and still do unless I am working in tangible shapes, but you get the idea)

There is a sense of ah...ha.

It starts with a complete humbling. A stripping away of the incessant need to evaluate the skill level of someone's work. This requires something that somehow the general culture doesn't teach us. It isn't in the water, or the food. We actually have to use our brains.

I have heard a comment spoken from a number of people at various times in several museums while standing in front of a Pollock, a Miro, a Mondrian, a Picasso...name your modern artist. It is...

"I could do that".

Could you really? Then why didn't you?

That comment spoken out loud, when heard is the one sound that can rip me out of a sublime moment of contemplation. Contemplating the life of the artist, the profound statement that he or she is trying to make, the political opposition that was faced, the influences, limitations, economics...

safe to say they didn't just pull the artwork out of their ass.

To really benefit from the art of any artist, I think you have to get into their lives a bit. And I am not talking about the novelty factors (like cutting of an ear or commiting suicide). I am talking about really looking at what was around them in their lives and viewing the progression of their work in light of as many variables as you can find. The great artists were in pursuit of something just beyond their reach, always moving toward it and forging new paths and discovering new ideas.

Scratching the surface of the divine.

And many artists sacrificed so much for their art. Understanding, or appreciation for their work happening only after they died. That alone punctuates the prophetic nature of art.

So the next time you are at a museum and are tempted to say something smug about a work of art, try employing this little tactic that I have been using...picture yourself saying it to the artist, and imagine the conversation that might follow...

You might find it enlightening.

Half Past Three (The Poet)
Marc Chagall


This work touched me because Chagall seems to be expressing a common artist's moment. Late night musing with a coffee cup in hand, the cat licking at you, a tipped wine bottle, and his notebook as he writes.

Painting With Two Balls
Jasper Johns


This piece just cracks me up. I can't boast to know much about Jasper Johns yet, but this piece done at the beginning of his career makes at least the most basic statement to anyone caring enough to criticize.


The PMA is my favorite museum in the world! It was where we went on field trips, starting when I was about 12. The modern art collection there was an enormous influance on me - the Chagalls, Duchamps and especially the deeply f*%#ed up Etants donnes which (unlikely as it seems) had a huge impact on - really formed - my taste in art.

Here's the great thing - I've gone back many times, and so I got to see the same works when I was 32, and when I was 42.

I can't wait to take my kid.

BRAVO!!! great insight and comment. Thanks for the pictures of the artwork I feel like I've been on a trip. Love the Chagall you can really see what the artist was saying and I love the colors. I kind of wondered if he had turned green from some bad wine and was trying to recover with some espresso. Just kidding you know how I observe things always have to look at the light side.

Betsy, your kid will love it. Start now. We only had an afternoon there, but I want to go back and see more. The modern collection was absolutely wonderful. There was a whole exhibit called Notations: Out of Words that I would love Daniel to see. He is currently wrestling with his painting trajectory incorporating text into his pieces.

Marta, yea, Chagall's choice of the green had me wondering too. Hmm... What could it be... that late night inspiration when you feel like your head is going to explode with ideas... or, just too much to drink. ;-) Or maybe both!

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This page contains a single entry by Blair published on April 17, 2007 9:58 PM.

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