Sunday, August 28, 2011

Art & Travel

I put me in one of my all-time favourite pieces of art - Edvard Munch's The Scream :P
“Why do I have to go to the Louvre? What’s so important about the Mona Lisa, anyway?” a friend asked me a month or so ago, when she was planning her big post-graduation Euro-Tour trip.

I couldn’t answer her beyond vague mutterings about
how there’s a lot of Great, Famous Art in the Louvre, that it’s a beautiful castle, and that the Mona Lisa is one of the most famous masterpieces of our time…but what if someone doesn’t care for art? Why should they waste their time and money to go see it just because other people say it’s important?

I know - not the Mona Lisa!  But this is the most recent Super Famous Piece of Art I've seen lately. :P

I was reminded of this conversation when I was over at the lovely and well-travelled Oneika’s blog the other day, when I read that she isn’t into museums and art galleries, either.

And that made me wonder – what IS the big deal with art, anyway?
The Museo del Prado in Madrid

Last year, when I was living in Madrid, I went to the Museo del Prado (home of the famous Las Meninas, Naked/Clothed Majas, etc.) four times – once with a fellow intern friend and once with each person that visited me – including Superwoman, who is one of those people who reads EVERY SINGLE EXPLANATION BLURB FOR EVERY PIECE. Slowly. That brings my total number of visits to that museum between five or six times – I’d been to Madrid twice prior to living there but I don’t remember whether I went to the Prado both times, although I probably did. That shows you how much of an art person I am. :P

So during the beginning of my stay in Madrid, my fellow intern and I thought that we should make a trip to that famous museum because we both felt like it was Something We Should Do in Madrid and because entry was free at certain times. Neither of us knew much about art, so our secondary reaction in there was, ‘Wow, there are a lot of pictures of Jesus and people dying in here. I wouldn’t want someone to paint a picture of me when I go…’ (Our primary reaction was, ‘Wow, it’s so nice and cool in here; I miss air conditioning. How can we secretly spend the night in here and not get caught?’)

After walking around and seeing all the paintings we’d heard of, we exited the museum, settled down on one of the shaded, grassy areas outside and took a nap while we listened to a person play Spanish guitar nearby – an experience we both semi-secretly thought was more enjoyable than actually looking at art inside the Prado.

I honestly tried to soak it all in as best I could. I wanted to feel all the things people feel – awe, horror, admiration, etc. – when they see these pieces, but I couldn’t really get into it. I was impressed at how some of the portraits looked as lifelike as photographs, but that was it. Upon leaving after spending what I thought was an adequate amount of time in there, I did feel "more cultured" on a superficial level, whatever that means.  But I felt like there was something wrong with me for not genuinely appreciating everything - actually feeling the art on a not-so-superficial level, so I continued taking visitors there in the hopes that maybe I'd get it one day.

There are three exceptions to my not feeling art - Edvard Munch's The Scream, Michaelangelo's fresco of God reaching out to man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Da Vinci's The Last Supper.  The Scream touched me when I saw it; I felt the horror, the pain, the fear, and the anxiety that the skinny, little person in the picture was experiencing.  But I think that was because I wasn't very happy at that point in my life when I saw it, so it resonated with me.

The Sistine Chapel awed me because the tour guide explained how Michaelangelo had to be raised to that high ceiling on a scaffolding he designed in order to paint the fresco.  It just amazed me how tiring it must have been for him to spend all his time, suspended so high up in mid-air and arm's length from a ceiling to boot, for four years.  And I remember thinking to myself, there God and man lie forever, in that picture, reaching out to each other but they will never touch.  Isn't that kind of how it is, in real life?  There are all these stories that people believe are true about how all kinds of deities and saints used to walk upon our world among us regular folk, but somehow since we started recording history, they haven't shown up again.  Were they ever really here?  Do they really exist?  How can some people be so sure when there is no solid proof? No one really knows.  It made me think of Bill Maher's riot of a mockumentary, Religulous.

Da Vinci's The Last Supper touched me - because of a rumour.  Some say that Da Vinci used the same model for Jesus and Judas.  He used a beautiful, innocent-looking young man to model as Jesus Christ when he first began the piece.  20 years later, he found a rough-looking, hard criminal to pose as Judas, and the model revealed himself to Da Vinci as the same man who posed as Jesus two decades earlier.  Nobody knows if it's true, but if it is, I think it's cool - and tragic.

So I continued advising other people to visit art galleries and museums – just like the friend I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Back to that conversation. My last argument was, “Well, at least you can say you’ve seen it, right? That way you’d know that you didn’t miss anything in Paris” A weak argument, admittedly, but at that point even I was wondering why it was such a huge deal.

Those of you who are huge art fans – why is it such a huge deal? Why are galleries and museums such important must-sees for everyone, including those who aren’t into art? Will someone shed some light, please?
Gratuitous Art Shot #1: Monet's Water Liles! :D
Gratuitous Art Shot #2: Cool set of shelves at the MoMA design floor

Gratuitous Art Shot #3: Warhol's Before and After

Gratuitous Art Shot #4: Picasso!

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