From my earliest recollections I have loved art. My definition of the word is broad and it includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, photography, music, literature, architecture, movies, food, nature, and it extends to athletics. It would be impossible for me to tell you how many pictures I have viewed, how many art museums I’ve visited, how many tunes I’ve listened to, how many movies I’ve watched, how many buildings I’ve gazed at while marveling at the design, how many books I’ve read, and how many times I’ve been transfixed while watching athletes deliver an incredible performance. All those experiences have enriched my life, broadened my mind, and helped me develop new perspectives.
Some art has inspired me, while some has repulsed me. I have been left breathless and also speechless…as in, “How did this get accepted to a museum?” I have been moved to tears and have laughed out loud in places where others gave more restrained socially acceptable responses. If there was a Grammy for best musical performance in a shower or vehicle, I might have a few of those on my mantle. Art engages me.
I’ll use a recent trip to Washington, D. C. as an example. Monica and I visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History to see Julia Child’s kitchen. Julia’s medium was food and her kitchen was the canvas. The kitchen was small and the walls were covered with pegboard outlined to show where every pot and pan would go. Lest you think Julia would have nothing but the best appliances, her stove was second hand and all of her utensils were in small crocks labeled with magic marker on masking tape. It was pretty ordinary by most standards and yet this “studio” is where she created masterpiece after masterpiece. Art has the power to inspire.
On the Friday evening before Memorial Day my youngest son, Colin, who works in the D. C. area, and I attended Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art. The weather was perfect, the music great, and we were just two of the thousands who came to the event. Some folks sat on the edge of the pool and dangled their feet in the water while others lounged on blankets with their families beneath the trees. People were engaged in the act of unwinding from the work week. Art has the power to soothe.
From there we went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall for a candlelight vigil conducted by Rolling Thunder. Lots more people. Silence. Reverence. Deeply touching. The design for the wall was met with a lot of skepticism and resistance when it was unveiled. The polished black granite inscribed with names did not look like any other of the war memorials. Many people spoke against having it constructed. The artist, Maya Lin, persisted and her supporters held firm. I have been to The Wall several times. It always gets an emotional response from me and each visit I see people reacting in a similar fashion. Fifty years after the war and thirty-seven years after its installation, The Wall still gets three million visitors a year. Art has the power to heal.
At the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian I am treated to the delicate and detailed gold jewelry of Senegalese artists and the incredible needlework on the robes of the Chinese empresses. The craftsmanship must truly be seen to be believed. There is a serious WOW! factor present in these exhibits. I leave in awe of their talents. Art has the power to amaze.
The Hirshhorn Museum calls itself a leading voice for contemporary art and culture and I agree. The first painting I encounter is a large canvas covered with very small numbers. The artist, Roman Opalka, spent the last 46 years of his artistic practice in a single pursuit: to count to infinity. As I walk through another room there is a part of a man’s leg complete with sock and shoe extending out horizontally at the base of a wall. Close by is a large sculpture of a nude, bald, overweight man sitting in the corner. Entering the next exhibit area I notice a metal disc about the size and thickness of a regular McDonald’s hamburger suspended from the ceiling by a nylon line so it is exactly 1/8” above the floor. The adjacent gallery has 8 or so lengths of yarn of red or black stretched taut between the floor and ceiling. Nothing else. What catches my eye is Mark Bradford’s Pickett’s Charge. The artwork spans almost 400 linear feet and encircles all the Third level inner galleries. Going from floor to ceiling the eight abstract paintings are each more than 45 feet long. Bradford used colored paper and reproductions of Philippoteaux’s cyclorama from the Gettysburg Military Park to create the piece. Once the installation was in place, he started to cut, tear and scrape through the layers of paper to reveal textures and complexities just below the surface. I didn’t “get” any of the art in the other exhibits and I’m not sure I “get” this, but it is awesome. I can’t stop looking at it. Art has the power to confound you and hold your attention…simultaneously.
Art is present almost every where in our nation’s capital. Whether it’s statuary, architectural, or the sounds from the numerous fountains, art is rarely more than a stone’s throw away from you. Slow down and count the number of decorative handrails you encounter as you go up and down the stairs. Take a look at the doors and hinges on the old buildings and relish the intricacy of the designs. Gaze at the ceilings and trim while wondering why they are so ornate. Drive through the neighborhoods on Capitol Hill looking at block after block of brick row houses, which, at first glance to be very much alike. Then take a second look and notice the differences in colors, details in the brickwork, unique trim elements, and the many different designs cut into the iron staircases in front of each home. Art has the power to unify and make us different at the same time.
When I was young, I loved to draw. It kept me occupied for hours. The creative process was joyful. Then someone told me I had a talent for drawing cars and cartoon characters. Judgment set in. There was pressure to perform. I had to make my next artwork better than the one before. The joy diminished and, outside of the occasional doodle, I eventually stopped drawing altogether. Today I am rediscovering the joyfulness of creativity. When viewing the art of others I don’t have to “get it.” Other people don’t have to “get” my art. Like all other artists, I just need to keep creating because I need to keep creating. Someone else will have to determine if it’s popular or marketable. Art is for art’s sake.