People run their fingers along the surface of divinity in different ways, whether they’re Christian, Islamic, Jewish, atheist. Maybe they surf, ride horses, collect rare PEZ dispensers, sing, taste a bunch of wine until they find one that makes their palate sing, or hammer a 4 X 4 truck through a mud run. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, all the mood enhancers that lift you from quotidian blah into another psychosphere — it’s all good. (Or well, it’s all good until you have too much of it and then sometimes it’s not and you find yourself on Intervention or Hoarders.) I know, I’m confusing adrenaline rushes with rapture, but I truly believe people access these states of being for similar reasons, some of them more noble forms of escape than others.
Usually, I get divine willies from seeing amazing buildings, art, books, or dance performance. I’m a really visual person. But the real work gets done in my brain as I process what I’m seeing — the crazy things that artists, writers, and dancers do with pigment, paragraphs, plies — that takes me backwards in time, forward with uncertainty, that subconscious recognition of ‘oh yeah you’re showing me this because you’ve seen it too and yeah i know they did this thousands of years ago but wow i never thought of it that way thank you thank you thank you. damn.’ And half the time artists don’t even know they “meant” all that, which makes it even more incredible and of course means that really, the responsibility lies with us — the viewers and readers — to determine the seismic impact.
Yesterday my friend Sue and I went to the Orlando Museum of Art to see the new Contemporary American Graphics Collection. Let me tell you, we absorbed and devoured that collection. The guards had their work cut out for them following us around. We know better than to touch paintings, but we came within a hair’s breadth a number of times, backing up, focusing in, catching them in different lights, looking for layers of underpainting and reading into all the intricate little pencilings and collage bits. What do they mean by this? What is it doing to me? What kind of statement is this piece making? What the hell does that mean? All the time, the guards are thinking these bitches are just way too interested.
A bunch of works were arresting and dramatic, or innovative, or physically huge. And then we came to this relatively small, quiet piece by Ben Aronson, an urban streetscape called “Closed Ramp” that just took our breath away. I’ve included an image of it which of course doesn’t do it justice. The perspective is technically brilliant, the volumes and planes of composition are so well balanced, and it rewards the eye up close, at 10 feet, at 20 feet, the surfaces had depth that changed the more you studied it. I’m no art historian, but thanks to some inherited genetic code from my mother I know when I am seeing something very good to great. This piece transcended the technical into the realm of divine heebie-jeebies. Sue (who actually does have art history training) and I usually like the same things — but not always. But with this one, we both knew. This was a smart piece that was making us look in a hundred different ways. And I felt those chills run up and down my legs and thought, “Yes, I see.”
After our intense brush with graphics, we took a break with sculpture which was no sensory break at all for me. I had to work hard not to rub like a cat up against one sculpture. I wanted to gnaw on one wooden sculpture like a beaver. Sculpture is so tactile! It just seems cruel not to let people touch it. I wanted to hug this fat, abstracted lovely dark green horse, barely recognizable as a horse. That is, until you circled around to the rear and saw a very realistic anus under its docked tail, and thought, yep, that’s a horse. We giggled with another couple of people who were looking at it, just like some delighted kindergartners laughing at a horse’s butthole. I’m sure the artist put it there to deflate the lofty abstraction that it nearly becomes. I love it when an artist shows a sense of humor. And truly, this is what a museum is supposed to do — amaze and delight.
On that topic, check out Wayne White (below — Failed Abstract Paintings of the Seventies.) He’s fun — and funny — beyond belief. No, he’s not at the OMA. Don’t I wish!
Later that evening, I found myself wishing that Sue and I could’ve shared the OMA exhibit with my mother. Reading about yet another exhibit this morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wished I could go, then I wished Mom could go. It occurred to me, “Mimi, she’s dead. She can get a ticket to any damn exhibit she wants to.” This was my flip way of saying that I’m sure wherever/whatever/however she exists, my mother realizes and knows when I am seeing something sublime. Or does she even care about art? Are spirits in such a beatific state that they’re beyond the wonderings and wanderings of art?
Earlier this week, I wrote a strange fact-piece for an online reference source. The topic was whether or not Lutherans believe that animals go to heaven. (For anyone interested, the answer is ‘no’ to ‘maybe,’ depending on who you consult and how free-thinking your pastor is.) The piece got sent back to me for editing because I included some quote from Will Rogers about if dogs are not in heaven, then I want to go where the dogs are. Humor is apparently not appropriate in reference sources, go figure. So maybe thoughts of the afterlife are on my mind. Art scrapes and scratches at the nature of existence, forcing us to see beyond our normal comprehension. I wonder when you don’t exist anymore on this earth, are you in such a constant state of grace that you don’t need the interpretation of art? On one of my Pinterest boards, I paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche to say, “We have art so that we don’t perish from the truth.” A little bit of truth is all I can handle, but if I glimpse it through art in this lifetime, bring it on.