For those of you who stop by here on a regular basis, you no doubt are familiar with the fact that I generally include art as the lead-in to the post. It generally has nothing whatsoever to do with the post, but simply expresses my love of painting and other forms of visual expression.
As I was preparing another post, I was contemplating where I might go to peruse through various artists and pick something that caught my eye, and as I am wont to do, I got to thinking.
Contrary to any common sense from my point of view, I find that I am often 58 going on 13. From time to time, on no regular schedule, I find that I discover something about myself that I never knew before. This on its own is shocking. One would think that after living so intimately within my own skin all these years that there would be nothing new to discover hidden in the deep recesses of my soul. Yet I find the opposite is true.
Let me explain. I purely love art. I love art on my terms. I have long ago concluded that art is what I say it is. I can dismiss any number of “artists” as charlatans from my point of view. I can conclude that anything I can do, disqualifies any professional artist from any claim to such fame. He or she is but a rank amateur like myself. I can dabble with painting as I do from time to time, unable to draw the most basic of “things” but when I finish my exploration of color and blending, I can call it art, because it speaks to me, and after all, there is no better definition is there?
When I begin my search most days, looking for a striking piece of art to offer you, I tend to try to evenly move around the basic places. You are no doubt familiar with this as I move from MoMa to MMA, to the Louvre, Hermitage, Chicago Art Institute and Library of Congress. I have tried to do this in some symmetry, not locking into one place or another.
But a nagging thought has been present for a good while and finally I allowed it forward and confronted it directly. I am always looking forward to those days when it’s the turn of photography artists to highlight. I can be stubborn and I can often determine what I feel is “correct” or right, and refuse to reconsider my position. I did that for years with hobbies, thinking I just hadn’t found the one that would fully capture my spirit and fully occupy every craft available moment.
So committed was I to the idea that art was broad and I should show off a wide variety of artists and subjects that I was suppressing the truth to myself. The fact is simply this: (don’t expect any major revelation now) I am continually most moved by black and white photography, much more so than general categories of oil, sculpture, pottery, or other mediums.
This does not mean that other mediums leave me cold or don’t impact my senses and emotions. Many many paintings do. I have sat for a half an hour admiring Monet’s “Gladiolas” at the Detroit Institute of Art and returned again and again to a artist, name now lost, who did a stupendously beautiful examination of shadow and sunlight inside a country cottage. I have held my breath while admiring the incredible talent of a Michelangelo in the exquisite details of his sculptures. I have been overwhelmed and found my eyes locked to the doe-eyed beauty of a Eurasian art deco nymph portrayed in a reproduction that hung in a bedroom I once inhabited.
Yet time and again, I realized that what stayed with me were the haunted eyes and people in photographs, people I did not know, people long dead and gone. I was moved and am moved to wonder about them, their lives, their hopes, dreams and miseries. Women intrigue me more than men I confess. I share a bond with those women over the years, decades and even centuries now that may separate us. I wish I could compare with them all the trials and victories of womanhood. I wish I could see the world from their perspective. Did they dream of my time? Or did they only look reflectively backward?
But this strong affinity for photographic art is by no means limited to women. I can look into the eyes of the child as coal miner or sweatshop worker and ponder the deep agonizing feeling of being so burdened by life. I can look upon the Midwest farmer, broken by drought and wondered how he has the strength to get up every day. I can look into the eyes of a Sudanese mother and feel her grief and despair. Somehow it is simply so very much more real than if the same scene is portrayed in oil or acrylics.
Perhaps it is simply the immediacy of the photograph. Other mediums require a certain time to develop, a posing that must be maintained, and in that perhaps I feel a certain in-authenticity. I think that this might be close to the mark, for I don’t feel the same thing when the subject is nature. Nature is color, blazing, wild, untamed, gigantic splashes of complementary and clashing hues. I can become totally enthralled at the amazing color array in the ocean at various points around the globe. Greens and blues of every hue and blending dance before me in a way that is incapable of capture I believe by any painting.
But of course there is nothing quite like the quiet beauty of an Ansel Adams. I find that stone lends itself most well to the black and white photo. The forest must show its million ways of green to be truly appreciated. Also the plains and their seemingly endless fields of golden grasses seem pale and devoid of life without their color. Shadow and light have their place, but that place for me is mountains.
To me, the black and white photo is at its best when it turns to the human being. There color but disturbs the eye, focusing it on dress, tie, jewelry and backgrounds. And this is where distraction is most inappropriate. Here we should be drawn only to the eyes, for they tell the entire story. Come to think of it, I think the same is nearly true of animals. The eyes should be the focus. It is there that we empathize, there where we gain entrance to the soul. It is there where we for brief moments in time get inside and share what life is like for this other.
And seeing this other is valuable. Feeling as the other is essential. It is what gives us the necessary aspect of ourselves that moves us ever higher on the evolutionary scale. It brings us empathy, compassion, brotherhood. It places us together as part of one vast human/living family. It drives us to fairness and decency. It drives us to God and to fulfilling our obligation to do His will, however we may envision that.
Quite a lot from a photograph? Perhaps it is. But it is what they do for me. For you, it may be something entirely different. Grab your means of spiritual growth and meaning where you find it. I have. You can expect to see photographs here for the most part from now on. I hope you will find a few that touch you, as they touch me. It’s just what I got to thinking about today.