Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jeff’s Cultural Hints:Art Stuff Part Two


Just as it’s easy to be overwhelmed in the Natural History museum by bunches of bones, and forget that it’s giving you a peek into the past of Earth that would appear extremely alien, not taking a minute to think about what’s being looked at can cause the historical element of the art museum to be missed.

These paintings and statues are why we have any idea what the founding fathers of this nation look like.  That’s pretty cool. Now everyone knows, because reproducing images of them is literally child’s play…mostly because adults can’t keep ahead of the photo manipulation software curve. 

This brings up another point, why there are Roman reproductions of Greek statues, or paintings of other paintings collected in museums…


For a large portion of human history, art (or physical reproductions of art) was the only way to capture the past.

I try not to think too hard about if a reproduction of a piece of art counts as art, because it makes my head hurt. 

Like so:

There are copies of statues that are in the museum. 

There’s a photography section in the museum.

If I take a really nice picture of the copy of the statue, could it wind up hung in the same museum?  Or does it have to be a picture of the real statue to count?

OK, quick ibuprofen break, take them if you got em.

Anyway, American founders are only from a couple hundred years ago.

There’s a statue of Alexander the Great. 

“Eh, big deal,” say the masses who live buried in the internet.

Unplug for a moment and think about this:
Here is a guy who ruled the “known world” and died over TWENTY THREE HUNDRED years ago, which is just a bit before the selfie stick was invented, and we KNOW WHAT HE LOOKS LIKE!


The same levels of amazement can be connected to pretty much everything in there.  The place is brimming with awesome stuff created by humans centuries before. It’s still intact, and it still looks neat.



This hint is sort of the flip side to the previous one.  While it’s nice to have a sense of history or background about what’s being seen, it is in no way needed to enjoy and gain something from it.

I took an American Art class in college, because I was impressed by the professor in a freshman course designed to prove to young engineering students that they don’t know everything and technology doesn’t solve everything.

Having a background where I went to this kind of museum is only one of the reasons I didn’t really need the class…

Or need to spend three hours a week in rooms full of people who did need it.

Aside- The reason I don’t watch the Big Bang Theory all that often is I lived it for five years. 

People ask, “Can you imagine someone like Sheldon?”
And I answer, “Can you imagine not having your head explode sitting in a classroom full of them?”

Anyway, one of the four professors tag teaming the rooms full of Sheldons was massively intelligent and had interesting perspectives on everything he talked about, so I took his art class.

I placed out of taking the final by pulling everything he said into my warehouse of useless crap like mind and regurgitating it back to him.

Thanks to his class, I can tell you that one of my favorite paintings in the MET is the Oxbow by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, founder of the Hudson River school of early 1800’s American landscape artists. 

It represents a scene from Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts and the artist put himself into the foreground that is about to be covered by an oncoming storm.   It’s one of several of Cole’s works showing a division between the natural and cultivated world.

My absolute favorite painting there, over in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century European section,  is The Forest at Winter in Sunset by Theodore Rousseau painted a little later than the Oxbow.  The only reason I know any of this beyond a two hundred year single continent window based on location, is I took a photo of the title card to document the name.

Yet, without knowing any details of the artist, location, school or intent, I’ve spent more time looking into these darkened woods than any other painting in the museum.

And every time I spend time with it, I notice some new little detail between the shadowed branches.  It was a fantastic moment getting to share this with my daughter on her second viewing of it.

“HEY!  There’s people in there!!!!”

That’s my girl!


This is one that’s for the artists instead of the museum patrons, and it requires an explanation longer than my usual random babblings.

As a result of the previously eluded to Professor Abrash, I gained a greater knowledge and understanding of Modern Art.

That isn’t to say I agree with what I understand.

To mess with a classic phrase:

“I know art and I know what I like, but often there are no connections between the two.”

In many cases with abstractions, the idea is to evoke a certain feeling or emotion, sometimes referenced and sometimes free standing.

Then there are the ones that use color and form to comment on the medium itself.

I always liked this one, which takes and extended dance mix riff on the impressionists’ ideas. From across the entire mezzanine, it looks like a cityscape, but the closer the viewer gets the less representational it is.

Right next to it is another favorite bundle of self-reference: a painting of a test to see if a cow recognizes a painting of itself, simultaneously getting the viewer to think about the fact that neither of them is really a cow, but both flat images.

There was considerable skill required to execute both of these paintings, whether representational or not.

There are other modern art examples which do not.
Again, I get it, but there are cases where I don’t want it.

In the American Art class was a girl who was…
in no danger of placing out of the final, to put it nicely.

At one point during a study session she caused me to practice greater restraint than I ever previously had in my life, upon noticing a reference to a comic strip name scribbled in the margin of my notes because I wanted to look at the modern art joke the professor mentioned.

She asked, “Now – Calvin and Hobbes, what did they paint?”

Never the less she came up with one of the wisest questions in the entire course.

We were being shown slides of the most modernish of modern art.  One of them was a multiple story high stack of shopping carts.

The professor stated it was considered art for the reason that no one ever did that and called it art before.

Her perfect question was clear, incisive, and direct.


In the modern art section of the MET are far more than there should be massively large canvases that could be copied in a couple of minutes with a step ladder and a paint roller.

I don’t care what type of emotion is intended to be generated, the incredulity overwhelms me.

Some have titles that indicate what feeling, or mode of thought the viewer should be steered toward, showing at least some creative juices flowed along with the paint.

Many however, are simply, “Untitled.”

This roundabout route leads to the text of this hint.


I’m sure I’ll get some backlash for that because of…


Yup, time for another seemingly unrelated story.

I’m big on having the appropriate shirt for wherever I go, which may explain the singularity generating mass of them I have in my closet.

There are legends spoken of my Disney Shirts and the planning associated with them.
I have enough animal shirts to cover different seasons and moods for Bronx Zoo trips.
And I have fish shirts that I pass on at the last minute to confuse people in aquariums with the source of this blog’s title.

For the Art Museum, I usually alternate between Egyptian motifs, and print shirts that should be labeled less as “Hawaiian” and more as “chromatic aberrations.”

On a particular visit to the MET, I had donned one of these crimes against visual nature.  As we passed through the modern section at the end of the day (to make fun of it) I was stunned.

There was an abstract painting hanging there which, if I stood in front of it, my nearly identifiable from space shirt would provide perfect camouflage.

Note: this painting is an example. 
Happily the one referenced isn’t there anymore. 
Sadly, the shirt isn’t either.

I didn’t act upon this instinct immediately, due to the person in the way.

He was a bespectacled and tweedy looking individual standing immobile a few feet away from the painting for a long period with one hand on his chin, staring deeply into it with a look of heavy pontification upon his furrowed brow.

Therefore I positioned myself,  standing immobile a few feet away from the bespectacled, and tweedy looking individual for a long period with one hand on my chin, staring deeply into him with a look of heavy pontification upon my furrowed brow.

After a bit, he noticed me, looked as if he was about to make what he felt was an enlightening statement about the work…then noticed my shirt, harrumphed grumpily and stormed off.


Note, this little Mexican dude has nothing to do with that last hint, but I like him.


This one is totally not my fault.

As one wanders through the enormous square footage of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as mentioned in HINT FIVE, a need to take in more details of a specific piece (not to mention sore feet) is an excellent reason for the benches placed in the center of many galleries.

Due to the complete awesomeness of the place, the benches are themed for the period and style of each gallery.

Marble slabs supported by columns in the Greek and Roman section.

Austere, pewish wooden constructs in the church like medieval art section.

Colonial style furnishings in the American Wing.


Therefore, at the end of a day filled with miles of walking through the collected cultural history of humanity, I was pretty well pooped by the time we were making fun of giant slabs of color in the Modern Wing.

In the center of a room filled with used drop cloths and oversized Lüscher color test samples was a knee high plastic rectangle with a shallow indentation in it and a ridge along one side.

My aching feet dragged my exhausted form over to it.

I turned and began to lower my posterior onto the seat in preparation to gaze at one of the more interesting random patterns of colors on a canvas.

The guard immediately ran over and yelled at me a great deal.

My daughter loves this story, and points out that, “Those signs are there for you!” everywhere else in the museum.


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