A Visit to the Art Museum
In art school, studying the works of the old masters used to be limited to reading a book or making a trek to a museum. Now, the Google Art Project (http://www.googleartproject.com) gives us a new tool for viewing art. It’s so amazing that today’s technology offers the opportunity of traveling to many museums without leaving your desk or opening a book. These new advances are exciting but not quite as refreshing as an actual visit to our local museum, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (http://www.mfah.org).
Art transcended second and third dimensions when James Turrell used light and space as his medium. You can only experience works like these by literally walking through them. In the company my daughter, Leilaour little artista visit to the museum takes on a different tone for me now. It is one of newness and a rush to take in as much as possible before she has had enough of being quiet, whispering and resisting the urge to run through the open rooms and halls. Her fresh little eyes and mind, lacking pop-culture references and ideas, can add a sense of newness to works that I would usually pass over because of a familiarity that eventually led to boredom.
Google has created an incredible site that allows the viewer to visit museums all over the world. The site offers the closest view one can get of paintings and museums when visiting is not an option. Google offers virtual tours where viewers can navigate the floor plans of some of the world’s most prominent museums. In addition, there are individual pieces featured for each museum. The zoom function allows one to discover things like van Gogh’s expressive knife strokes smeared over a textured canvas. And yet, only seeing the painting in person allows the viewer to grasp the true colors and intention of the artist and by far beats the color variations spoiled by a printing press or the variations of colors and tones of a computer screen.
Leila and I made one of our first visits to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston this past year, so we could see the new James Turrell installation in the basement. I had never been inside one of his works, and I am fascinated by the idea of space and light creating an abstract, sacred environment. We walked into his piece and were transported to a space so mysterious, bright and full of silence that we felt as if we were floating in air. We made our way through the tunnel and on to the fourth floor of the museum’s new wing.
It was difficult to appreciate the pieces in the new galleries while also answering the questions of a curious sprite. She first took notice of the Baroque still lives, pristine and rich with detail but void of the formulaic compositions that characterized the works of the Late Renaissance. I’d never realized how tenebrism was used even in still lives like those that Leila noticed. She asked me why someone would illustrate dead animals next to fruit and vegetables. I chuckled but found a way to take it seriously, to put it into words she could understand. Well, I said, they wanted to capture something beautiful that not everyone could have-a feast for the rich or the prize of the hunt.
We finally made our way to the pre-war European section of the Arts of Europe wing. She then started screeching and running, which meant it was time to go. When we were in the lobby waiting for my husband, I asked her what piece she liked most of all. She explained that it was the painting with the girl wearing the red hat. I thought Leila’s sudden excitement was because she recognized Daddy amidst the crowd. When she ran past him, I got up to go get her. She turned around as she approached the gift shop and gleefully pointed out her favorite painting, The Corn Poppy, by Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen (January 26, 1877 May 28, 1968). When I took a second look at the painting I could understand why-aesthetics, childlike eyes, bright red lipstick, hat, hair, black eyes. Fashionable. All things she likes to emulate when she steps into the grown-up world by wearing outlandish outfits and stealing the bright red lipstick out of my purse.