The Charnel House, a Picasso painted in 1944, hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, “a cry against war and a cry of horror.”
Somewhere in those same galleries, Dali’s Persistence of Memory lies melting and melding time in an abstract expressionist wail of concern and consoles–clocks melting in “a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order.” There too is a Pollock hanging close by, One: Number 31, a desperate energetic splash of life and grey on canvas. I could take you round and round: past a Monet, a Matisse, the even Lawrences divorced from the odds somewhere afar. You’d see a Warhol I mistakenly took a flash picture of–Campbell’s Soup Cans. The guard shouted at me and I ran away and ran in circles.
Such a fool, both me and that guard. I saw another Picasso, a Rousseau, a Kandinsky and a Kirchener. I wondered what the walls were saying to me today. I got stuck in a gallery full of german expressionist art for a while wondering what was so modern about a Klimt. After I had my fill, I decided it was time to leave these things behind. But then I brought it all home with me. What is it about a painting that makes it memorable? Is it the name scribbled in the corner?
Is it the colors that make it come alive? Pollock might say yes. Yes it is the colors. Or is it the way the artist has captured a moment in time? A starry night out the asylum window. I think it is all of these things. The Charnel House tells a story of war and horror. The Persistence of Memory tells a story of time and memory. One: Number 31 tells a story of life and energy. These paintings, and so many others, tell us stories about ourselves and our world. They are like mirrors, reflecting back to us who we are and who we might be. When we look at a painting, we are not just seeing colors and shapes. We are seeing the world through the eyes of the artist. We are seeing their story. And in that story, we might just see our own.
I like going to museums alone. There’s a communion in staring at a piece of art that people often interrupt. I’ve never felt lonely looking at art alone. I love going to the museum by myself because I can take my time looking at each piece of art and really think about it without feeling pressure to move on. I often find myself getting lost in thought while staring at a painting or sculpture, and it’s a nice feeling to be able to spend as much time as I want in that moment without worrying about what other people are thinking. I don’t know the woman screaming at the child who reached over a barrier to get a feel for some nondescript painting. I don’t blame the kid. The painting looked like it needed some life. Maybe we should let kids have a feel so they can know there really isn’t as much there as the colors make it seem. Ehn.
I moved on to a lone figure after the incident with the child. See? Not so lonely. I’ve told you this already. I hope you can understand.
The disciplined explosion of The Fourteenth of July will always be burnt into my mind. It reminds me of that child, funnily. Its feels like something was let loose then held back before it could break anything. Suspended in a moment of powerful expansion. Dynamite frozen in the second after it is lit. There must be something about how to live life written in its bounds, don’t you think? Perhaps it is an illusion, but every moment I see more and more beauty and pain and power and silence in the red splotches as I stand drinking it in. There is a fireworks display in this crowd I am sure. I was once told that fireworks are dangerous because they are unpredictable. I don’t think that is entirely true. There is something about their very nature that seems to defy the chaotic passage of time. Each explosion is a brief moment of order in a Universe that often seems randomly dark and empty. As if, for just a second, the Universe makes sense. I want to be fireworks. To explode into the world in my own special way, and for just a moment, to light up the sky.
Have you ever seen yourself in a painting? Which one, if I may ask, was it? I haven’t seen myself in a painting, but I once saw myself in poem. It was a poem about a boy in a copse of trees. He was standing alone with the flowers and the wind and the sun. He was happy. And that was all I needed to see.