Monday, January 17, 2011

living with a painting, day one

I was thinking the other day about how much I hate museums. I think I hate going to museums the same way I hate reading books: I get overwhelmed by the content and the time it takes for me to get through it all.  I hate that you have to "get through it all" at a museum, like there's a time limit.  You have to see everything in a couple of hours.  I personally can't be in a museum for longer than a couple of hours. I go mad and get angry and want to run away.  There's just too much stuff.  I hate how I can only give each painting a quick glance or, at most, five or seven minutes contemplating its lines and colors and textures and context and subject so superficially that I might as well not even look at it.  I forget it the moment I leave, unless I find a postcard of it in the gift shop, but the postcard is merely a reminder of its existence, a reminder that will probably find its way to the bottom of a pile of postcards, or tacked to a wall with fifty other reminders.

A museum is no way to view art.  Art should be lived with. How can I possibly understand a piece of art if I only glance at it, if it's not there with me to return to when I'm not thinking of anything in particular? It's funny how I thought of this and then when I started reading a book by Stephen Fry called The Ode Less Traveled about writing poetry, he says: Poems, "as with a good painting are not there to be greedily taken in at once, they are to be lived and endlessly revisited. The eye can go back and back and back, investigating new corners, new incidents and the new shapes that seem to emerge."  Clearly I need to live with a painting.

I've had this idea before but have never taken the time to see it through.  So I decided now was the perfect opportunity.  I would go to a local museum, find a painting and visit it every day for at least a week. I would spend at least an hour in its presence, not necessarily staring at it for an hour--I would write, listen to music, read, and the moments when I pause or get distracted I would look at the painting, and allow my eye to slip across it, lingering on a particularly lovely line or shading, sweeping through its figures and focusing on a bit of color I hadn't seen before.  This is how I want to experience art, not rushing through a museum so that I can say I've seen it all.

So today I went to the Tate Britain to meet my painting.  My criteria for choosing a painting were pretty arbitrary: 1) it had to be something I'd consider putting on my wall at home, a painting I wouldn't object living with, and 2) there had to be a soft seat near by.  That's all.  There were some early 20th century paintings I quite liked but not a soft chair in the room, so I moved on to another room  Finally I chose this painting:
It's called Theseus and the Minotaure (Interior at Minos) by Keith Vaughan finished in 1950.  I don't particularly love the painting, but that's one of the reasons I chose it.  It's like when you meet someone at school or church, and you get along fine but they're not your favorite person, and then you get to know them and sometimes you become pretty good friends, or at least you understand them better and can appreciate who they are.  That's kind of what I'm hoping will come of this experience.  

One interesting thing I noticed about the painting is that I counted 78 crescents in it.  That's a lot of crescents. That's pretty much what I got from it today, but I have a whole week to acquaint myself with it and think more about it.  Today was just the initial meeting.  I think this is going to be a fun experience. 


  1. Do you think the figure on the couch just ate too much and is resting up and stretching out to make room for dessert? Maybe that is an irreverent way to look at your painting, if so I apologize. Just wondering what it's trying to say...

  2. Ha. It certainly looks like it. I don't think that's an irreverent way to look at it, but it is called Theseus and the Minotaur, which refers to this myth: The problem is that there's something not quite right about the painting as far as the myth goes. I don't know which one is Theseus, or why the figure is lying down. I do know that the pomegranate on the floor is related to the myth. it's a mystery. any interpretation is probably justified. I honestly think it's just three figures that the artist wanted to paint and used the Theseus thing as an excuse.