In my first year of university, I took History of Art 1.01. It was a notorious course. It was held during ‘first’ – the first lecture of the day – the lecture slot least attended by university students, let alone artistic university students and those studying arts degrees. Not surprisingly, it had a high failure rate.
Of course, I was full of youthful idealism. I didn’t for a second think I wouldn’t be bounding out of bed with the birds to soak up the gloriousness of “Learning”. That lasted a semester. For most courses. But to be honest, History of Art got me out of bed.
The fat cherubs and seraphim of the renaissance. The light and dark of the old masters. The raw, human beauty of the realists. The angles and anger of the modernists. And the impressionists. My god, the impressionists. Those magicians of subtle colour. The use of every deft brush stroke to carve movement and emotion. The paint more than pigment and oils and water. More than turpentine and dust cloths. More than a man and an easel.
So imagine my delight, after an hour and a half of museum meandering, of finding the section of the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to early 20th century artists. Oh my. Like a child at Christmas. Monet, Cezanne, Sisley, Pissarro, Seurat, Degas**, Renoir, Manet. All of them were there. I actually squealed with glee.
And then I saw the Van Gogh. Wheat Field with Cypresses. And maybe it was the jetlag, but my eyes instantly welled with tears. It was so beautiful. All the text books, projected images in lectures halls, didn’t prepare me. For the colour. The texture. The raw vivid splendor. God, I sound so dramatic. But perhaps this is what art is. Something that has to be experienced alone. The ability of the artist to capture something that resonates with others. A moment of connection. But very, deeply personal. I don’t know. All I know is that my tired, weary feet were forgotten. My jetlag gone. It was just me and this gorgeous, wild thing, shimmering with life even after almost 250 years.
I almost felt sorry for the Gauguin one frame on.*
*and god knows I didn’t give the Klimt, Matisse, de Kooning or Pollack their due. Although both Monet’s Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog), a Rothko (#3) and a stunning Calder mobile made me stop and stare too. And, for the time and place, I spent some time with the sweetly naïve Rockwells. An embarrassment of riches. I need to go back and give them all more time.
**even if he did have a weird obession with ballerinas.