Saturday, August 20, 2011

Post Number 519

This post is assigned a number not because I feel that 519 is a meaningful landmark. I didn't even notice #500 come and go. The title is a tribute to the Abstract Expressionist artists whose works are currently on as a special display at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  A lot of their works were given numbers instead of titles, I guess for maximum abstraction.

I met my mother and her friend there. The friend is an AGO tour guide, and although I wasn't expecting it she gave me my own personal tour of the exhibit.  It was interesting, although socially awkward because I never know what to say about art.  She'd do her spiel about the history of this guy and how he was inspired by that guy and how ultimately it was all about Freud and digging down into the subconscious, and then I'd just kind of nod and try to look pensive.  The best I could do was "Wow, that's really trippy."

It's not as though I didn't get anything from the paintings.  It's just that what I was getting was happening in the non-verbal spaces of my brain.

I especially liked the Mark Rothko room.  His paintings are very simple, primarily horizontal blocks of colour on a contrasting background.  They're the type of work of which you could say "I could do that" or "My ten-year-old kid could do that".  And maybe you'd be right, but I still got something from them.  It was an atmospheric sense, the feeling that each one was representative of one particular type of specific emotional space one might exist in in a dream, one that cannot ever be fully grokked by anyone else no matter how much you try to define that feeling in words upon awakening, because it was too all-encompassing and powerful and it defies explanation or translation.  I guess that means he successfully used his work to dig down into the subconscious.

My mother and her friend were all about taking time with each painting.  They told me to get up as close to the canvas as possible (without setting off the proximity alarms), try to let it fill my entire visual field, and then wait for my subconscious to take off into the piece.  Frankly that didn't work for me at all.  I found that as soon as I clapped eyes on a painting from across the room, I had a visceral first reaction to it that set the stage for everything else I subsequently experienced about it.  Getting right up close to the canvas and staring at it just made me feel awkward and like I was trying too hard.  For want of something to do, my brain would start analyzing what was in front of me, which only served to dilute my initial gut reaction.

I liked being there in the gallery.  Some paintings were more pleasing than others.  The overall experience was kind of fun, like being on drugs without the drugs.  The only one I really couldn't get into was a completely square, completely black canvas; I'm pretty sure it was by Robert Motherwell.  You're supposed to be able to stare at it and after a while you can perceive that it is actually made up of "shades of black" and some kind of shapes appear, black on a blacker background or something like that.

I stared at that painting until my eyes stung, but all I could see was a uniformly black square.  Everyone else around me was all "Oh yes, I see it!"   It was like being the only person who can't see the sailboat in a Magic Eye picture.  Either my eyes aren't magic enough, or it's the Emperor's New Painting.  However, I don't feel that I have the authority to call b.s. on this canvas because I do have terrible night vision, so it's entirely plausible that my eyes just aren't up to the job of appreciating it.

I didn't stay long.  Not only did I feel no need to stand and gaze upon the paintings for any length of time, the gallery was freezing cold and grew more and more crowded the longer we stayed.  I thanked my mother's friend for the tour.  After a lengthy conversation between my mother and her friend about how the friend's fridge was breaking and where could she rent a bar fridge to tide her over until the new fridge was delivered on Wednesday?  and would the rental place deliver?  and what would it cost do you think?  the friend took her leave of us.  My mother said her goodbyes too.

I bought an apple juice and a nut/seed/dried-fruit bar and went outside to sit in a little downtown parkette.  I watched small birds hop through the grass and kept an eye on a guy at the opposite end of the park who was practicing his juggling.  I like the AGO, but it doesn't take long in there for me to want to get back outside into the warm sun and normal life.

10 comments:

Jameil said...

LOL. I was thinking earlier today how frequently we're on the same wavelength lately. I SO GET IT!!! "what I was getting was happening in the non-verbal spaces of my brain." this is me!! Also I don't really want to 'enjoy' a painting that requires me staring at it to enjoy it. I still like museums, I just am not so much with the abstract expressionism. Pittsburgh has an Andy Warhol museum that is AWESOME!!! My bf & I were in there for hours having a blast!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

First time I've heard Grok used outside of the book ;-) very nice. Art is good when people enjoy it, but not when it has to be explained to death so you can look and pretend to enjoy it.

DarcKnyt said...

Wow, my 10 year old COULD do that. My six year old too. But like you, I've never been able to see the Emperor's New Picture in those "Magic" Pictures either.

But at least you weren't at work. Right?

And kudos for using the word "Grok" in context. Niiiiiice.

Granny Annie said...

Some people call my work "art" and I still don't get it. Just proves "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"...and puts money in the hand of the creator...hopefully:)

G said...

I have never understood the appeal or sensibility of abstract art.

I get and understand what normal art is (to indirectly quote "Schoolhouse Rock", art is a person, place or thing), but something like this usually makes me give a response like you did.

Sparkling Red said...

Jameil: Wow, we are tuned in! That's a good thing.
My Mom was doing the staring thing, and claimed that the longer she looked at the painting the more she got out of it. I wasn't sure whether to believe her or not.

Ron: Yup, to me art either does the job* or it doesn't. Sometimes an explanation adds to the experience, and sometimes it detracts, but to me it's most pleasing if the experience is not mediated through a 3rd party.
* I think I can best describe what I want out of art is to have my brain tickled in a way that leaves it slightly changed and feeling as though I have travelled to a new and unfamiliar place for a short time.

DarcKnyt (and Ron again): I love the word "grok"! I wish it was more widely known because I'm tempted to use it in conversation on a regular basis. Now I know that it's fair game here you'll probably see it again soon.

Granny Annie: I put my own definition of art (the current one at least, I'm always playing with it) in my reply to Ron, above. It certainly is in the eye or ear of the beholder. It's more of a relationship than anything else. After being in a gallery I get Art Eye for a while and see the whole world through a different lens until my brain gears shift back into neutral.

G: I enjoyed these paintings more than I expected to. Being there in person to see the texture of them and the scale made a world of difference vs. seeing them online or in a book. I actually did learn something, and feel more attracted to abstract art now than previously, although I still think that it's not all genius just because it's in an art gallery.

Pixiebaby said...

Sounds like an interesting day. I often find myself at a loss for the appropriate words to express what I am thinking. I love the way you put it! I am not usually a huge fan of abstracts either, but every now and then one will call to me and strike a chord. They are usually very simple. but there's just something about the way that they are composed...I dunno :)

Lynn said...

Sounds like a lovely time!

DarcsFalcon said...

Sounds like you had a great time! Even sitting in the sunshine and enjoying things was fun, and I'm glad you were able to get out and about. :)

Grok - I like it. I had to laugh a little because "the bad guys" in my kids Spore game are called Grocks. :)

ileana said...

I would've loved going on that tour with you and especially trying to see what's in the black and hanging out in the Mark Rothko room seeing if I could feel something. Fun post! :)