Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Spirit of Experimentation

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art; I thought I'd been there before, but when I arrived I realized I was mistaken. I have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Sex. In my nearly 14 years in New York City I've now been to 4 of the more than 80 museums that exist within its five boroughs. One thing that annoys me most about myself is that I don't take enough advantage of the glorious things this City has to offer.

Art is subjective. What is beautiful to one person may be ugly to another. What one person finds profoundly meaningful may be meaningless to another. There were things - sketches, paintings, sculptures, nets, videos - that I couldn't believe were art. There were computer monitors mounted on the wall with keyboards mounted underneath on which a person could type. The letters jumped; this is art? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I had to remind myself that it was modern art: traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.

Just when I couldn't take another second of design and architectural art I found myself in front of a painting bursting with blue. I was drawn to it because of its color. It was then that I began to notice its composition. Being drawn to the color seemed to be my calling card when it came to abstract art. The colors speak to me and lure me in and then I look at the piece as a whole and search for its meaning. I didn't always find a love beyond the color. Sometimes however I found a beauty I didn't even know was there.

Pollock. I will admit that I don't understand the popularity of Pollock. When I look at his paintings I can't seem to get beyond the drips and splatters passing for art. Somebody loved it though and deemed it worthy enough for the public attention. I can officially say I'm glad they did. I expressed my thoughts freely and openly with Brandon and Anna, two painters/artists in their own right. I didn't feel ignorant in my lack of understanding the Why? factor. We stood in that gallery and looked and talked. Brandon had plenty of knowledge on Pollock to share. He was passionate about it; passionate the way I get when I talk about something I truly love. We made our way to another of his paintings, White Light, 1954. We three stood in front of it, view unobstructed by other onlookers. We were then joined by a man who had been eaves dropping on our earlier discussion. It was not intrusive. He instigated another Pollock conversation. He had been coming to MoMA since he was 6. He loved Pollock. Now in his 30's he'd had plenty of moments at the painting in front of which we stood. I didn't interject much during that conversation, but it was interesting to listen to Brandon and the man discuss. As I stood there and stared at this painting of drips and splatters and lines and swooshes and smears, an image began to emerge for me. I saw it as the chaos of New York City, specifically Times Square. I think I can honestly say the yellow of the painting had something to do with that. It reminded me of the many taxicabs that permeate our streets and avenues. There are also spots of gray where the black and white have been blended together that reminded me of streets. My chaos idea is completely informed by the fact that I live in New York City. There's no way to know what I might have seen if I still lived in Arlington, KY. Maybe I was trying to find something literal in all the abstractness. I don't know. That's just what I saw. Art is subjective.

Van Gogh. I didn't realize until more than a day later how amazing it was that I had actually stood close enough to touch Van Gogh's Starry Night, 1889. Of course touching it would probably have set off some alarm and gotten me tossed straight out onto the cold, gray street. That painting is one that has been in my memory for many years. I don't even remember when I first saw it on a postcard or in a book. This was no reproduction though. This was the real thing. I went back a second time to gaze upon it again, the significance still not really setting in. Anna was very excited to be in its presence. I may be mistaken, but I believe she said it was her favorite painting. I guess for her, standing in front of Starry Night would be like me sitting in a theatre listening to an orchestra play any Sondheim score for the first time. It's heart-pounding, tear-inducing excitement.

Seurat. Speaking of Sondheim he wrote a beautiful score for the musical Sunday in the Park with George about the life of Georges Seurat. Seurat invented pointillism defined from Wikipedia as "a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image." In the musical, Seurat is painting one of his most famous paintings, the gorgeous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I have a copy of that painting hanging in my apartment. I've had it for years. It's a beautiful piece of art. I'm sure that its beauty is enhanced by my love of the musical that tells the story of the painter and the people in the painting. I'm not sure how long it would have been, if ever, until I discovered it if not for that musical. I have no memory of ever seeing another work by Seurat except maybe in an art book. Nothing stands out though. I now have three more images in my memory from this trip to MoMA. The one that stood out for me the most was Port-in-Bessin, Entrance to the Harbor, 1888. I know myself well enough to know that it was the blues depicting the water that drew me to the piece. I also know that the scene seemed so peaceful. It's amazing to me that dotting the canvas with multiple dots of color can create such an image. Day after day of dot after dot and then you end up with water and land and sail boats and sky. Oh to have the drive and motivation to create something that creates beauty and stirs emotion.

Critics to make fun of what Seurat was doing used the word pointillism. All these years later he is credited with creating a new style of painting. Art is subjective. Creating a new style could be said of Pollack; most certainly if you ask Brandon. Pollock dripped and poured his paint onto a canvas he laid on the floor instead of placing on an easel. His technique is now thought to be one of the origins of the term "action painting". Boldly creating something new without worrying about the naysayer is something to aspire to. I can't seem to release my hindrance of caring what people think. It holds me back. It helps me to live in fear. I'm sure these artists felt a puncture wound to their souls when their art was spoken of negatively, but they didn't stop creating in their style or with their vision.

Here's to obtaining the freedom to drip the music, swirl the words and dot the i's with confidence. "White. A blank page or canvas. So many possibilities..."