I’m not a naturally talented person. You should know that going in. I have often described myself as being a jack of all trades when it comes to crafts of various kinds. I am expert at none, but can do most passably well. I have no artistic talent at all. I’m a stick figure kinda girl. I paint from time to time, but it is abstract in nature, and concentrates on what I do love, which is the blending of color. My paintings are attractive only to me, perhaps, but that is okay. I use as much a Spackle putty knife as I do a brush.
I used to watch those guys on PBS who taught painting of landscapes. You know the ones I mean, producing a finished product in 30 minutes. Happy little trees, grew quickly on the canvas from the older German guy. The red-headed afro dude continued. I kinda can do that, but it all seems so false to me, like cheating. I prefer my abstractions as it were.
One of my goals this year was to read a coffee table behemoth call “The History of Art,” by H.W. Janson. It has tons of photos of famous art, and strong writing that I am finding fascinating. I ‘m actually learning something!
Let me illustrate if I can what exactly I mean. One painting I have seen in various books and online is a Vermeer called “Woman Holding a Balance.” It is an intriguing work for me I so very much enjoy paintings that emphasize light and it’s play on objects.It is located, should you be interested, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
It is, as you can see, a dark painting, and sadly this representation is darker than most.
If you look carefully, you can see white pearls on the table, and there are also coins upon it. The woman is holding a scale, which is just barely visible in this photograph.
Below you can see a closeup of the hand and the table:
The scales are still barely visible, but you can see the light reflecting on the edges and the pearls, and coins stacked next to them. A painting is on the wall behind her. It is a bit more discernible in this photo:
Now, if you were to see this painting in a gallery, you might like it, or not, you might stop and enjoy the beauty of the girl, her serenity, the perfect talent of the painter in painting a beautiful replication of reality.
And like me, you would miss the point of the painting entirely. Which is not to say that what you have discerned is unimportant, but how much more rich is the experience when you understand what is going on here.
The key is the painting in the background. It is a painting of the Last Judgment. Christ is pictured at the top and mankind is below, awaiting individually their fate.
We are told the woman is wealthy. Experts tell us that, by the clothing she is wearing. Fur trimming was not the clothing of the poor. Before her on the table are what most of us would consider wealthy reminders–pearls and money. Rich material in blue, is also laying to the extreme left, which can barely be seen.
Art experts seem more or less in agreement that the woman is contemplating the state of wealth versus the chance of salvation. Storing up riches on earth we all understand gets us no where with God. The serenity of the woman seems to suggest that she is aware of the temptation and is not impressed with the wealth. She is confident of her place and future.
Thus, the painting serves to remind us that we must weigh carefully our accumulation of riches against what will come at the end, the Final Judgment. We should, it urges live lives of moderation and be sure that we are in “balance.”
My point here is only that there is a wealth of information that we don’t have when we visit most museums. We scurry through the various galleries, hoping to see as much as possible during our limited stay. In truth, we gain little from the exercise since the background of most works of art are simply unknown to us.
Surely it doesn’t mean that we must conduct an Internet investigation of every piece of art we see to understand the details and meaning. And truth be told, critics are not always in agreement, nor are they always right. In the end, one’s own opinion is what matters. Yet it is inescapable that we can appreciate the art much more deeply if we know these details.
If you have pieces of art that you return to again and again at a gallery or museum that you visit, I would suggest that it would be worth your while to do some research on it. You may find that there is a good deal more to the piece than you thought. If nothing else, it will definitely impress your co-workers and friends!