I am tapped out from my last essay about Revealing Our Roots to Soothe the Soul. A deep and emotional dive into my maternal ancestry.
So I need to lighten my load.
Decided to peruse my writing notebook for past entries and prompt ideas, especially those from one of the local writing classes I took via zoom during the pandemic. The prompt: Admit One.
My admit one will be as the only person allowed into an art museum for a full day. Any one of the major art museums around the globe will do. I travel and have been fortunate to have visited some of the best.
Museum staff will be given the day off. But all necessary lights are on for my optimal viewing pleasure.
My all day pass will allow me to wander the halls without stoic and bored museum guards watching my every move as I initially dance and frolic like a child entering the local corner candy store in 1965 with a handful of coins.
I relish the idea of being able to get as close as I want to anything and everything without being kicked out. I will, of course, be respectful.
The first section I enter is the prehistoric galleries where so much of humanity’s innate creativity and ingenuity began. Observing and studying early objects puts everything in perspective. Simplicity, efficiency, utility as well as beauty were all important elements in the lives of early civilizations. Creators were respected and revered for their contributions.
After that grounding experience I would choose to go grand with the Renaissance section.
The voluptuous figures and intense scenes of Tintoretto, Titian and Raphael are quite a contrast from the rudimentary, stoic and stiff prehistoric work I just viewed. The detail alone smacks my whole body instantaneously. Visually and emotionally. There is no denying the scene narratives displayed. They are bold, beautiful and terrifyingly real.
While admiring the size of the paintings (usually floor to ceiling), I imagine entering their scenes more intimately. Not as a participant, but more as a direct observer. After spending considerable time with these masters of space illusion, figurative rendering and drama, I will take a pause because my faculties are completely overwhelmed.
Choosing a bench in an atrium with windows to the sky, I’ll do some deep breathing with natural light on my face and eyes closed. Even reclining on the floor, if I feel like it.
Once rejuvenated, I wander toward the works of Van Gogh. Any of his work will fulfill my “overly sensitive” sensory needs.
The first time I saw one of his pieces in the flesh was during a museum visit while on a high school band or choir tour. I do not remember the details of where or even the particular piece, just how I felt when looking at it up close. The imagery jumping off the canvas and into my personal aura.
I imagine seeing some of Van Gogh’s amazingly thick, direct, and emotionally charged portraits and lusciously orchestrated landscapes. When observing his work, I feel as though I’m peering into the mind and depths of this artist’s soul. The colors are sensationally vivid. The paint strokes thick enough to create an almost bas-relief effect. The movement created is both exciting and exhausting. Touching them crosses my mind, but I will restrain.
After that poignant and spectacular roller coaster ride of artistic expression, another respite is in order.
Off to the museum cafe, helping myself to a pastry and hot tea where I will do some serious decompression writing in my journal. All the while enjoying the complete silence of empty chairs and tables. Nothing but my pencil scratching on the paper in my journal and the buzzing thoughts in my head clamoring to escape.
Site specific or temporary installations are next on my list. Installations that encourage and entice physical participation have always intrigued me. I prefer a kinesthetic experience in life and in learning. I am always having to consciously hold myself back from touching objects when in “no touchy” spaces such as these.
This type of art envelopes your whole self and the experience is often difficult to describe. No two people encounter the same visceral reaction. And describing the experience to someone else is not really the point of it, at least in my mind.
I visited a museum in Portugal where the artist created a completely dark enclosed space with only white painted three dimensional shapes hung randomly on the walls. When I entered, it was pitch black. No light from anywhere. I could not see in front of my face and immediately felt claustrophobic, not able to breathe properly. One of my senses was incapacitated, thus I felt out of balance.
Essentially it was the fear of not knowing where to step, if I would bump into something or lose my footing. Panicking, I wanted desperately to find the exit.
Eventually I allowed my eyes to adjust to where I could see faint shadows and the sculptural shapes that emerged from the walls. More importantly, I began to permit my body to sense the room. Goal of the artist achieved!
A memorable exercise in the comfortable versus the uncomfortable. Not to mention, how we acquiesce to the false fears that keep us caged, knowingly and unknowingly, from some amazing “out of body” experiences.
After that collective and heady experience, open space, light, color and broadness is necessary.
An ideal time to enter a room full of Mark Rothko paintings. Rothko’s work vibrates within my soul. I would sit and stare while my physical self feels the movement emanating from those large seemingly flat swaths of paint. Sitting quietly, my mind opens up, releasing all the unnecessary tensions and mindless clutter.
I may even close my eyes, recline and take a nap.
The first time I saw a Rothko, I thought “What’s the big deal?”. There is little doubt many viewers feel this way about any work they deem unrealistic in their estimation. Or work they charge a fourth grader could create. Well, Rothko’s work is indeed realistic. But it requires time and patience in which to sit, observe, feel and even listen to the work. Your body will let you know just how realistic the experience is.
After being inside most of the day, I need to spend some fresh air time outdoors. The life size or larger than life masterpieces in the sculpture garden are usually the last place I go when visiting any art museum for the very reason stated above.
Sitting among the steel, marble, stone, metal, plastic masterpieces, I gaze at the creative use of materials on such a large scale. I visualize the artist and their assistants working the material to the point of completion (weeks, months, sometimes years). Their commitment unwavering toward its finality.
My problem solving artist mind will imagine the installation process and placement.
One of the many things I admire about sculpture gardens is the why, how and where pieces are placed. Some need to be in the wide open to enhance and expand their scultpure-ness, especially if their purpose is to invite participation. Others can be cleverly hidden among the landscape meant to surprise those walking by. Unannounced and seemingly fortuitous. Still others are placed as holders of the surrounding landscape. They become part of and one with their setting.
If feeling ballsy, I will touch absolutely everything.
I could go on, but this is the essence of my “day in the art museum”.
So why the desire to be alone with works of art in a museum?
Being in solitude allows for more conscious consideration when in the presence of memorable and influential works of art (or anything that is impactful to us).
And if I am being honest, this is how I would prefer to visit museums all the time. Not a fan of crowds and it’s not because of a dislike of people (well, sometimes it is). I just need space, calm and silence in order to be intentional when viewing and feeling the works of art that move me.
I have sensitivities to noise, body odors. loud talking, footsteps, children, whispering, laughter, stares, etc. All of this takes away from absorbing the work for the short time I have in which to do so. When something fills my soul, minimizing distractions as long as I can stave them off, is my preference.
When I go to an art museum under normal circumstances, I last maybe three hours. It takes a great deal of my energy to block out all the interruptions in order to appreciate whatever I am viewing. Exhausting in a good way, but the experience is too abbreviated and never as deep.
I do not always remember specific works of art I have viewed or in which museum or gallery they were located. Instead, cataloguing my sensory encounter and the inspiration I absorbed is the purpose. A whole body experience as opposed to just a passing memory of having seen a popular work of art.
As an abstract artist, the elements of my own marks emanate from deep within my being. The work surfaces as a combination of my conscious and subconscious self. My life’s journey, known and unknown. My creations are provocative, evoking feelings, which takes more than a passive glance. It involves patience and observation.
Viewing, experiencing and creating work that dares me to feel, question and ponder is exciting. Which takes time, intention and contemplation and done best in solitude.
I encourage you to click on the links I provided within the essay. Thank you for reading.