Thursday, April 13, 2017

Jeff’s Cultural Hints:Art Stuff Part One

The recent travelogue about my daughter and my trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art probably came as a surprise to many…

Especially if they’ve been reading anything else I’ve written, all of which piles up substantial evidence of my pride in being an uncultured boor.

However, the MET ranks with the Bronx Zoo, and the Natural History Museum, as New York locations where I feel at home.

My slightly askew perspective from the rampant snootiness often associated with the fine arts may help others of the “uncultured boor” variety to find the same enjoyment there I have.

Therefore, I have compiled a set of ten helpfulish hints on the enjoyment of the massive collection of treasures

Shall we begin?


Let’s just throw this out there in the open from the get go.

Whether its anatomically detailed muscular classic or neo-classic marble statues, oil paintings of chubby renaissance women, or tribal artifacts and storage vessels, artists have made representations of the unclothed human form as often as they could get away with throughout history.

And your kids will be fine.

There are nudes in art now, they will continue to be in whatever media is developed, and they have been since the first people scratched each other on cave walls. 
(That sounded dirtier than I meant to.)

And civilization is still here.

If you don’t make a big deal about it, the kids won’t either. 

As they hit puberty, if they start to linger in an exhibit with a vague expression you may have to give them a nudge, but honestly, aside from some giggling, it will all be fine.

Granted, if I’m there, there may be far more giggling, as I point out famous works of art like:
“Here we have the Muse Transistoria demonstrating how she can use her right boob to tune Hercules’s favorite station on her left boob.”



While taking  a break for lunch in the café adjacent to the American Sculpture Garden may at first seem like an idyllic and peaceful way to celebrate a meal surrounded with cultural highlights, remember  a couple of points.

A) The Sculpture Garden was built and arranged long before the café was added.

B)  While an impressive and thought provoking neoclassical piece, the Struggle of the Two Natures in Man, sculpted by George Gray Barnard from 1892-1894 is a massively heavy piece of stone and the difficulty and danger to the art likely prevented it from being shifted after its initial placement, regardless of changes to the building layout.

C) A Giant Marble Ass is not the most appetizing background for one’s lunch.



Prejudices against Art Museums are normally connected with folks saying, “I don’t care about a bunch of paintings.” 

The thing is “Art” has an enormously wide definition.

I admit, as a kid I was bored when my Dad wanted to spend a long time looking at the European paintings on the second floor. 

Now, at least in that respect, I’ve achieved my greatest goal in life by becoming him.

I was never against going to the Art Museum, or as I first knew it.
“The Museum with the awesome weapons and armor.”

When I got a little older it was:
“The Museum with the awesome weapons, armor, and the wicked cool Egyptian section.”

My wife refers to it as:
“The Museum with the pretty furniture and room displays.”

While my daughter adds:
“And the cool musical instruments.”

The point is, art is different for every viewer, and the MET has representations of nearly all of it, meaning just about anyone can find a section that will interest them. Since the place is so phenomenally huge, seeing it all in one day is impossible anyway.  A quick map check will lead to something to strike anyone’s fancy.



The good news: finding something on the map that will be of interest is easy.

The bad news: human instinct, especially for young ones, is to run to the thing they’re interested in and ignore everything else.

Like most of life, the path matters.

When the kids start rushing, unless there’s a bathroom involved, slow them down.

With the creative achievements of human history lining every wall and passageway, there’s a high likelihood of them noticing something they had no idea they liked, but may shape their personality in years to come.

Or as we refer to it in my family:



Knowing the size of New York Zoos and Museums, I tend to be kind of a pain when people ask me to show them around. 

Or as my daughter puts it:
“Don’t let daddy see you sitting on a bench, he gets crankier than usual.”

These places are far too large to rest in areas with nothing to occupy one’s attention.

Having said that, in all of them, treating the map as a checklist is an enormous waste of potential enjoyment and learning. 

In the American Museum of Natural History, some of the dioramas and Dinosaurs are huge enough that even a rapid pass by insures enough time is spent to take in the grandeur.

Any moving animal in the Bronx Zoo can normally catch the attention of the most exhausted person.

But the sheer density of the works in the MET makes it easy to whip by and miss something.

I never got why Van Gogh was as well respected as he is, until I stood and looked at his works for a bit in person.  There’s a dynamic element to them that isn’t conveyed through photographs, and requires more than a glance to pick up.

Some impressionists’ works require viewing from multiple distances to get the whole effect.

And the classics have insane levels of detail in them that can’t be noticed when power walking past.

There’s one still life Dad always loved because the knife on the table looks completely three dimensional.

It’s in a room full of fantastically beautiful still lifes of the period.  Plowing through the room at warp speed, a viewer would only pick up:
“Fruit- wine bottle – fruit- wine bottle- skull- fruit – wine bottle, fruit.”

And miss the details that are what makes a painting a work of art.

The same is true for the sculptures, furniture, jewelry, or whatever.

I just used the stuff I rushed by as a kid for the example.

Heck, it took me about half a dozen youthful visits before I noticed the incredibly faint, but beautifully rendered translucent ghosts in the detailed background of the Joan of Arc painting... 
Once I took the time to stand there in appreciation of the mix of emotions on Joan’s face.



Click Here to keep looking at part 2 when it posts next week

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