When it comes to art (paintings, sculptures, etc.), I am quite unsophisticated. As college wound down, I was searching for a more “grown-up” and “sophisticated” look for my apartment. So naturally, I headed straight the cheap wall poster section of Michael’s. And, since I didn’t have a clue about art, I settled for what someone in the eighties thought would have commercial value. Enter Water Lilies (Claude Monet) and Starry Night (Vincent Van Gogh) complete with flimsy, pop together, plastic wall frames.
As time went on, I grew more sophisticated in taste – enter Jazz Fest Posters. Hey – unlike the mass-produced variety, these are actual art. And, while we own a few (unsigned, unnamed) originals, we’ve also collected a few giclées (the adult version of cheesy wall posters) of pieces that we love but didn’t have an option for obtaining the original.
What I’ve come to realize over time – art is about choosing pieces (whatever medium or mediums) that move you. For some, the art game may be about discovering the next Picasso. For me, I tend to pick up pieces that connect me to a time, place, or emotion. One of my first “grown-up” giclées is Life is Good by Bill Hemmerling. As I was talking with Ms. Carol who runs the Hemmerling Gallery on Royal Street, she told me the story of how the piece was Bill’s response to hearing the first bird sing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Having heard the deafening silence that blanketed the city after that storm, I knew in an instant what that bird must have sounded like. I cried. Bittersweet tears of loss mixing with tears of joy. Everyone who asked about the piece as I carried it from the gallery to my car heard Bill’s story – which connected with their own Katrina stories. More tears.
On a recent girls’ trip with my daughter, Megan, we ended up at the Art Institute of Chicago. Based upon past museum experiences, I entered the Art Institute with some pretty mid-level expectations. As we moved through the various galleries and exhibits, we found ourselves in the section that houses the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. For the first time, I saw my cheesy wall poster of Water Lilies through a whole new light – through the original. Those tacky wall posters may have made it in the bins of the craft store because some corporate executive deemed them commercially viable, but they made it to my walls because unconsciously they touched something inside me.
What could that be? I never intentionally considered why these posters over those posters or some other posters. As the full glory of the original hung before me and surrounded by similar works, it dawned on me that it’s the style that moves me. In my humble opinion, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists are more “realistic” than their Realists counterparts in the way they capture life. Quick strokes seizing the essence of fleeting moments. Allowing space for the heart to fill. The stark reality of pure colors coexisting side by side depending upon the mind’s ability to blend them into the shades of recollection. The interplay of light and shadow created with the use of color, taking the edge off of even the harshest of realities.
Standing face to face with the originals of famous paintings that had captured my imagination in years past was moving. As trite as that may sound, there is no other way to describe how I felt meandering the museum’s halls that morning. Of all the paintings that we saw, however, one stands out if for no other reason than its sheer size – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. The painting is approximately 7 x 10 feet – FEET. The painting is an amazing example of a style known as “pointillism,” where miniature dots and minute brushstrokes are placed in patterns that the eye then merges into unified colors and images – much akin to the way pixels work on a screen. Unlike the graphic artist who works with pixels, Seurat didn’t have the benefit of a keyboard to make quick work of the project. Seurat spent nearly two years to complete the painting.
Individual dots and dashes may appear meaningless when viewed in isolation in the same way that individual pixels appear jagged and random. Yet, over the course of time, Seurat painstakingly chose each dot and dash and color and hue. Then he placed each one in the precise point on the canvas where it would best serve the whole. Viewed from the wrong perspective, A Sunday Afternoon seems to be nothing more than a chaotic mess of random dots, dashes, strokes, and hues. One must stand a considerable distance from the work to take it all in. The way the sunlight falls in the painting is one of its notable features. And, you can’t see that with your face pressed up against one corner of the frame. Rather, one must travel to the shore’s edge (the other side of the room essentially) where the individual strokes are no longer visible. It is on that golden shore where the golden light of Seurat’s lazy, Parisienne afternoon shines brightest.
Frankly, I’ve spent too much time treating life a lot like I tend to treat art – failing to see my full worth. Discounting my value vis-à-vis the Original. Viewing it from the wrong perspective. More often than not, I have my face pressed in nice and tight where the only thing that I can see is the one little dot that represents my life. Within my one little dot, there is a whole other universe of chaotic color, dissonant dots, and discordant dashes.
The way an eye doctor spins lenses in the exam room, the whole spins in and out of focus. Perspective waxing and waning. Why am I here? Why was I created? We can only catch glimpses of perspective in this lifetime. Earth’s edge simply isn’t far enough to take in the whole.
Brooke chided me when I brought Life is Good home. Apparently, it didn’t move her quite like it did me. Ironically, after the accident, I found a random picture on one of Brooke’s old cameras of another Bill Hemmerling work – Clouds of Joy. So, my husband and I headed to the French Quarter to pay Ms. Carol a visit. After we inquired about the work, she explained that the edition had already sold out. But – there were some works in the warehouse that had recently been moved from another location, and she thought that maybe she had seen one in there. No promises. While Ms. Carol checked the warehouse, Todd and I enjoyed one of our last afternoons in the Quarter before relocating to Minnesota. When we returned to the gallery, not only had Ms. Carol dug up a giclée of Clouds of Joy, but it had been signed by the artist who has already passed away. I cried. Bittersweet tears of loss mixing with tears of joy.
On the day when this life ends, my prayer is that each and every one of us will find ourselves swept up in Clouds of Joy. There at the gates of heaven, the full glory of the Original will shed full Light on each of our dashes and dots. Too often, we forget that we are made in the image of God. We discount ourselves as a cheesy, wall-poster imitation. From a heavenly vantage point, we will finally be able to see the full picture along with each dot and dash in its full and perfect glory. And, there will be much rejoicing!