Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Something so beautiful and something for June

One of the main joys of a visit to Washington D.C. is the National Gallery of Art, near the Capitol Building, on the National Mall. Though I have been there several times, it is always thrilling, and there is never time, nor stamina to see it all.

I love looking at art almost more than anything I can think of. And I love all kinds of art. I feel privileged to have studied art in college, especially art history. Seeing the paintings that I studied, actually hanging before me is, for me, always a revalation. It is not the same to see a painting in a book or a projected image or on the computer monitor.

I have never believed that art must be beautiful. It can be exciting in many ways, that are not what one would call traditionally beautiful. But there is art that is so beautiful that it tightens my throat and makes sudden tears burn behind my eyes. The painting above does that for me. It is by Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch artist—Lady With a Balance. Vermeer is lauded for his delicately lighted interior scenes and luxurious color. My photo does not, of course, do any of this justice. But, I ask you, isn't there something in that soft and luminous face, that speaks? Is that not a real woman from more than three hundred years ago whose essential humanity and quiet beauty live in the paint? Isn't that a miracle of some kind?

The painting, below, by living artist, Cy Twombly, may be at the opposite end of some spectrum from the Vermeer, but was also one of my favorites. I took the photo especially for my friend, June, who has a particular affinity for Twombly. At first glance the work looks, for all the world like a page of graffiti or scribbles, like one might doodle during a boring meeting, but there is intention and symbolism, as well as a tumbling kind of rhythm and energy to the images. I am also intrigued by the smudgy background that serves to create the structure and form of the composition. What looks random is actually a pretty classic compositional form—the S curve.

There, now you've had your art lesson for the day!

We did not make it out to see any more art studios on Sunday. Sofia came to visit, instead, which was much more fun. I do hope to go see more this coming weekend. I will be sure to take pictures.


  1. Anonymous1:13 PM

    OH, Terry! I attended the last day of the large Vermeer exhibit a few years ago at the Met, and it was heaven on earth. He's my favorite painter.

    No; Matisse!

    No; Cezanne!

    Arrrrrgggghhhh. To have such a gift...

  2. Yes, Vermeer is adorable.

  3. Hi Terry - I studied art history in college too! One of my favorite stories is about Picasso and Matisse (rivals, friends, aggravations to each other throughout their lives...). Matisse thought art should be a sanctuary, a renewal, a joy, a comfort from the difficulties of the world, and Picasso thought art should whomp a person over the head and wake them up from their delusional state. Obviously they had a lot of arguments over wine. I can just imagine it! Enjoyed the post! Laura

  4. Thanks for the art lesson.

  5. I saw Girl with the Pearl Earring in person when we were in Holland. Very gorgeous and so much better in person. There is something special about a Vermeer.

    For those with children (around ages 9 - 12) there is a fun book called Chasing Vermeer. It is a bit of a mystery with puzzles to solve and, of course, art.

  6. Received! Thank you!!

  7. Susan LT5:47 PM

    Terry, thank you so much for the wonderful blog. I love seeing your responses to good art. Last night I watched a PBS show about the Vogels, collectors of avant garde art in NY. What stunned me was the discussion of conceptual art, which was difficult for me to understand in the 70s but makes total sense now. I adore people, like you, who bow respectfully to great art. Thank you.

  8. Art is exciting and we are lucky to have so much of it available to us FREE here in DC. Are you a painter, too?

  9. One reason I like Twombly is that you taught me how to like him. And here you are, giving again.

    Thanks, Terry.

  10. Not on Twombly's wavelength yet - think it may be one of those "Oh, NOW I get it!" situations. But totally agree about faces speaking over the centuries - I love portraits for the same reason I love old tombstones - you meet some very interesting people in graveyards!