I searched for a calming work of art, and ended up looking at German expressionist, Auguste Macke’s paintings. Even with the bright colors, the texture of this painting is soft, not harsh. While there is something mysterious about the lady with her face turned away from us, it is a gentle mystery. She seems alone and quiet compared to the two couples in front of her. I like her beauty. I like that she is important enough to the artist to be the central object, and also the artist respects her privacy by not painting her face.
If the weather had cooperated the kids and I would have gone owling this evening with some people from the Horicon Marsh. But the wind picked up and the roads drifted over. We didn’t go.
This painting captures that trick of late afternoon winter sun. Monsted is a Danish artist and worth looking at. His paintings are crisp and bright. He paints trees as he sees them – no generalizing or trying to make them pretty. I think it must be his love of nature that shows through each painting, infusing it with beauty. Art is not just a pretty picture. It’s a message, a worldview, a special interpretation. It says, “Look at me,” but it also says, “Look the way my artist looked.” The viewer brings something to the interpretation, too, some associations or memories. But I think the thing that draws us into a work of art is the invitation to look through someone else’s eyes. Even if the painting is so realistic it looks photographic, it is still a painting, still a product of an artist. The artist cannot paint something, disappear, and then everyone can pretend it was made by divine means. Look at real nature for that. A painting is a look into humanity, even if it is a landscape.
Here’s a beautiful painting by a Scottish artist I never heard of before. I don’t have sheep, but I do have outdoor cats, and I enjoy walking out to the shed to feed them, especially when the snow is powdery and the air is clear. The sounds of the calves huffing in the nearby pen and the distant snowplow on the road are so completely different and welcome from the sounds of my children fussing and the sounds of myself scolding them. Sometimes I envy my husband for having an outdoor, solitary sort of life. Except that he gets lonely. I wouldn’t. God knows best, of course, but it often seems like we get the wrong jobs. Or too much of the right ones. Maybe the shepherd in this painting doesn’t want to walk quite so far. But from the right perspective, his life is beautiful.
I’m reading a book about Renoir, which you’ll likely hear more about in a later post. It is interesting to learn who the people in the paintings are. Gabrielle, for instance, is a cousin of Aline (Renoir’s wife) who came to live with the Renoir family to be a nanny. She later did some modeling for Renoir, and there are many paintings of Gabrielle. According to the book I am reading, Gabrielle was quite the spirited girl. Knowing some of the stories about the people in Renoir’s paintings adds a new spin to appreciating his art. These are real people–family members, friends, admirers, fellow artists. They are not anonymous models, all face and no history. As much as the Impressionists wanted to portray an impression of the moment, their paintings still have background, weight, and shadows of the past.
The window above my kitchen sink looks out to the patch of woods behind our house. I often find myself staring at the bare tree branches. I love those black etchings against a blue-gray sky. It is so complicated and intricate. Because I like to draw, I stand at the sink and wonder how I would draw that. Would I simplify it? I would have to; there are far too many details for a two-dimensional drawing. But would I simplify it A LOT, or would it still be very complex and time-consuming? At this point I generally remind myself that I don’t have the time to do a very complex drawing, and then I remind myself that I live here and I can stare out my windows whenever I want. I don’t really need a drawing of it on my wall. And that leads me to contemplate the reason why people create art at all.
I have not come to any definitive answers on any of these things I wonder about. However, I notice that Mondrian loved bare tree branches, too. This is a more realistic rendering of them. In other paintings he simplifies, abstracts, breaks things down. He thought about things a lot, too, and he has complex theories that go with his artwork. I don’t know what they are; I just know I once tried to paint like Mondrian and my art professor said, “Yes, but he had theories to go with his paintings…” Well, theories or no theories, I like his tree branches.
Rousseau was one of those artists who died before his paintings received great recognition. He also had a tough life; two wives died, along with seven children. He died of a leg infection at the age of 66. When I look at some of his paintings, I think of worlds that exist only in a child’s imagination. I think of tall tales and wild dreams. This is where the definitions of “wilderness” and “wildness” overlap. I think of escapism, but not like a cheap novel. This is a one-of-a-kind escape from the everyday world. This is the artist allowing us into his psyche. I must say that I enjoy it. His paintings are fun and weird and they invite the viewer to be fun and weird, too.
This painting (or else another very similar Monet water lily painting) holds a special place in my memories. I saw it in person when I went to the Art Institute of Chicago with my art history class in college. It was the painting I chose to write about for class. I don’t remember the essay very well, but I do remember contemplating the distinctions (in this case, lack of distinctions) between abstraction and realism. It looks like a pond with water lilies in it. It also looks like an abstraction–a painting that has more to do with colors and brushstrokes than water lilies and water. It is in this gray area that I like to rest my thoughts. A place where memory and imagination, prayer and words from books swim freely together, unhindered by the time of day or the real people in the house with me. It’s not a complete dream-world; it’s somewhere between dreams and reality. It might be my favorite place to be.