Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bud, holy cow!

I just went to the Seoul Museum of Art, and saw Vincent Van Gogh. This guy...

you know the difference between looking at pictures of your friend, and actually sitting down and chatting -- you know the way NOBODY gets your vacation photos the way you do, just because bud, the food looks great in the picture, but they didn't get to eat it, and you did.

Well, dear readers, art is like that too. I didn't actually see Vincent VanGogh. He died. Quite a while ago, now. But if you think these pictures are impressive -- wow! You really gotta see them in person. The paint on the canvas, the little knots of colour, the texture that jumps out at you -- it's like the difference between a photo album and a person (which makes sense, but still didn't really click until I saw these in person).

This one was there. Girlfriendoseyo disagrees with me, but I think Van Gogh was overwhelmed by the sun. The sun seems so close here -- it strikes me even as being accusing. The sun almost totally dominates just about every painting where it appears in Van Gogh's work. The field is so mundane next to that glaring eye. You can barely even see the birds eating the sower's seeds -- they're totally irrelevant next to that sun.

I stared at this one for about three minutes without blinking. I don't know how, but Vincent got to me, like a fisher with his hook, he got a hold of something in me.

This next one wasn't in the exhibit, but you can see here, too, Van Gogh's feeling about the sky. I said to Girlfriendoseyo today -- Raphael's or Vermeer's paintings are so perfect, so realistic, it's like they're just seeing. Picasso's paintings are so intuitive, so emotional, it's like they're just feeling. Van Gogh sees and feels. It's amazing how raw and visceral these paintings are in person.

This one WAS in the exhibit, and Girlfriendoseyo and I were both totally gobsmacked. I just can not convey to you how powerful this painting is in person. I really can't. Even if you eat the computer screen where the painting is displayed, you won't be as deeply impressed by it as we were. Go, seek it out, and see it yourself.

This next painting was there too, the only of his self portraits (I think).

This one broke my heart, and also caught hold of me for several minutes: every line said, "dude, I've lived a f***ing rough life." He died at age 37, but this, one of his early paintings, already looks about fifty.

Everybody loves these next three. . . they weren't at the exhibit, but they might have been too much for me if they were. My old roomie Anthony once told me the story of his buddy, the self-proclaimed "biggest Bjork fan in the world", who, when he got the chance to see Bjork perform live, ended up having to leave the auditorium after the first few songs, completely overwhelmed with the power of his experience. I scoffed at the story then, and called dude an idiot for flinching away from a potential high-point in his life. . . but now I think I might understand a bit.

Considering how these three are still amazing, gorgeous, and fresh to me, even though they pop up of every tea room wall, on every Starbucks mug, in every poster-shop window. . . to actually see them in person, to have their impact amplified that much -- I might have to look away for a while, too, before staring into the sun like that.

Dear Lord, the man's night skies were breathtaking!

This one WAS there. In person, it's almost a different painting entirely.

And I wish I could explain what he does with flowers. . . but there's just no way. (This is why people write poems, I suppose.)

This wasn't at the exhibit, but again, look how he just lays his soul bare in the skies. The indoor still life paintings' backgrounds were totally flat and dull, but this Vincent fellow, he had some kind of a thing about skies.

Thanks to him, now I do, too.

Wasn't at the exhibit, but just -- wow. Just wow.

I love painters.
The German poet Rilke (my personal poetry hero) wrote, in the First Duino Elegy

"already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world"

And this is why artists draw -- because there doesn't have to be a story, or a meaning, or anything but a field and a sky. . . but that field, and that sky -- WOW!

Here it is! Be amazed!

We're right back to that again, aren't we? Can't that sometimes be enough? Can't that sometimes be the entire end and purpose of some art? As John Keats said,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

But with words, Keats had to say beauty is truth. These painters just show something beautiful, and they don't even have to add a single layer of interpretation if they don't want to, and they can just leave it at "here it is. be amazed."

(Girl With a Pearl Earring, by another Dutch guy who was pretty good: Vermeer. Here it is. It's beautiful. Be amazed.)

Yeah, sometimes there's other stuff in there, too. . . but there doesn't have to be. With writing, it's almost impossible not to add in a little pontification, a little theme or interpretation or explanation -- it's why I get bummed every time I read Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey -- he starts off with a "here it is. be amazed" and then starts adding other stuff. Sometimes in other poems, he got it right, got it pure, but often he was so busy explaining the perfection of his moments, or describing his own feelings, that he clouds the beauty with too many traces of his own voice -- kind of like an amazing photograph with a text line across the middle of the composition saying, "taken on a fuji finepix E550"

For your benefit, I've created a visual representation of what I mean. Which of these pictures would you rather have on your wall?

Here's a Picasso painting I talked about in a previous post.

I love about Picasso that he stripped away everything in his paintings except the things he decided were important for that particular painting.

Form? Not needed.
Proportion? Why?
Perspective? Does it serve the painting's main theme?
Conventional Placement Of Body Parts? Let's talk about that again later.

But what he DID keep in his painting, distorted, exaggerated, or rearranged for proper emphasis, maintained the exact emotional content of his subject, even when the recognizable form was long gone, and so, even though you wouldn't recognize her to pass her on the street, you FEEL this woman crying (the painting is named "La Femme Qui Pleure" - the woman who cries), more (or at least as) clearly and authentically than/as a hundred photos of women actually crying.

The other thing I love love love about Picasso is his face. Look at his eyes. Those are eyes that have been trained, for an entire lifetime, to see into the heart of things, and find wonder there. "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child." That he not only learned how to SEE the world that way, but was also skilled or intuitive enough to translate what he saw onto canvas is as much a miracle as the way Mozart heard the music perfectly in his head, or the way Beethoven composed the Ninth Symphony while stone-deaf, or the way John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison managed to be born in the same city, in the same era, and meet each other.

Even when he's very old, you still see a child in his eyes. You see a mind still open. Still dancing.

That kind of wise simplicity appears from time to time, in somebody's eyes. . . not even in every artist, though. My favourite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, has a sharper edge in his eyes.

but it doesn't surprise me that someone who uses words (which are basically boxes, categories, and judgements impressed upon the things that actually reach one's senses) would have a sharper edge than someone who uses colours and shapes to lay bare his soul.

Would you believe that behind those eyes lies one of the finest religious-scholarly minds on the planet?

I hope, when I'm an old man, I have eyes as encompassing, innocent, and simple, as that.

But more than that, I hope they look that way because I've worked my whole life to see the world simply and wonderfully (wonderful meaning full of wonder, of course), and maybe even that I've been clever enough to transmit some of that tight-packed wonder into some books that other people can read.

How long does it take to write a poem like Rilke, or paint a painting like Picasso, or a story like JD Salinger?

A few hours, or a few days, or a few months. . . and an entire lifetime, of course.


Dad said...

Your blog reminds me of your own Grade 12 paintings which always seemed to carry a deeper level of meaning and of feeling than what was there on the canvas. I enjoy having them on my walls as having a bit of you here, and our visitors are uniformly impressed by your work. When will you take up the brush again alongside your pen?

Anonymous said...

I think that endless reproduction has diminished Van Gogh's works, similar to hearing too much Beethoven. ( Ref. to
" The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction " by Walter
Benjamin. ) If you visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, you might be struck by the mediocrity of many paintings -- it was a long way to go. Have you read " Letters to Theo," his collected letters to his brother ? GREAT
book ! Simpson

melissa v. said...

HOWLING with laughter...LOVING your family, so funny!! Yup, I think Bec takes the double prize for being #1, the funniest, and #2, the most artistically reflective of real life. The most humourous humour is that which is closest, but not touching, the real deal.
and props to Bec

tamie marie said...

I once paid a bunch of money to hear Anne Quindlen speak. But the opening poet, a local guy, moved me so deeply that I actually had to leave right after he read his poems. I couldn't stay for Anne. A year later, the poet committed suicide.