In case you’re new to Medium Cool, BGinCHI is here once a week to offer a thread on culture, mainly film & books, with some TV thrown in.
In this week’s Medium Cool, let’s talk about visual art (painting, sculpture, photography, or anything you might find at a gallery or museum).
Since the pandemic has started to abate (somewhat, and depending on geography and personal risk), I’m guessing we’ve all been thinking about what we want to do when things normalize. One thing I’m dying to do is go to The Art Institute and just wander around. That has me thinking about the question of where we learn about art. And here, by “art” I mean the narrower version of painting, sculpture, photography, and any other work you find in a museum/gallery.
How did you learn about art? And how have you continued to learn about it? Where do you go? How has it changed the way you look at the world?
When I was a kid, my parents were friends with artists. It was just something that was always around.
I wish I’d known some creative people growing up. That’s a great model for a kid.
I have early memories of being taken to the Met by my sister. Something must have clicked because I have somewhat later memories of going by myself to MOMA, staring at the water lilies, then taking a deep breath and diving (visually) into the paintings.
I love the Art Institute and I go there almost every time I’m in Chicago. Back in November, when Covid had abated briefly, my housemates and I went to the DeYoung in San Francisco to see the Frieda Kahlo exhibit. Worth seeing, if you’re in the area.
I learned most of what I know about art by going to museums. I did watch Sister Wendy on PBS years ago. I took art classes in junior high, but I don’t remember talking about art history.
I went to public school, and the art education there was pretty minimal – drawing and painting and papier mache, etc., though middle school, but no art classes in high school. I don’t recall that we ever actually looked at paintings or sculptures by famous artists in class. A couple of times we went to a nearby art museum in elementary school. (I should add that the art teachers I had were pretty bad, and in no way encouraged an appreciation of art or students to improve their skills.)
So my art education came by happenstance, first starting with traveling and going to museums, and then visiting museums and, to a much lesser extent, galleries in the cities where I lived. I was fortunate as a young adult to live in a city where almost all of the museums were free (DC), which allowed me to stop in for brief visits every week rather than having to cram everything in several hours to get my (limited) money’s worth. And in NYC, where I live now, the Met and the Brooklyn Museum are basically free to residents (pay what you will).
Best visual art I’ve ever seen was in Italy. Rome and Florence. You’re drowning in it.
My bride is a fabric artist and she’s been doing “thread painting” for a while. Here’s Bohdi
Here’s Lil Bit.
Twitter has art. I bet Instagram has tons more, but no Zuckerberg for me. I follow @womensart1, @Daniel_Red_Eire, both aggregators of stuff from artists I like. @tanaka_tatsuya makes miniature sculptures out of different objects, @artistdurer, a fan account of Albrecht Durer, and more I can’t find right now. Lots of museums offer virtual tours, but I can get frustrated because either they explain too much or not enough and the images can take forever to load.
I grew up surrounded by art, my mother continues to produce abstract art now in her mid 80’s, and continues to be active in the coop modern art gallery in my hometown. Over the years I’ve continued to appreciate art, of all types, and have been drawn to photography as my medium of choice. I make no claims to being an artist, but I love finding abstract forms in nature or architecture.
In almost every city that I visit, I search out the local museums. Favorites of mine over the years have included the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MOMA, each of the Guggenheim museums in NYC, Venice, and Bilbao, as well as the Denver Art Museum in my home city.
She is so talented!
I don’t know how I learned about art. I used to read encyclopedias, so probably there. I think it has given me interests outside of being a nerd. My favorite artist is August Macke who was killed in WW1. I often use Woman in a Green Dress as a picture on my computer main page, and it starts quite a bit of conversation.
A Ghost to Most
I make my own art.
I had a History of Western Art course in college, the only art course on campus 50+ years ago. I took it because I liked the professor and I took all his courses. (He was not an art historian, just a well informed art lover.). I knew almost nothing about art and had never been to a museum. But something about the course clicked. I have a vivid memory of a trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum and seeing my first ever real paintings. I particularly remember “Nude Descending a Staircase.” For some reason, it blew my mind.
Then I spent the summer in Europe. I think the most memorable moment on that trip was walking into the Monet room at the Louvre. And Giotto’s frescos at Assisi. I’m not sure how or what shaped my taste in art, just that it is very eclectic. I don’t get to museums much anymore, but I can close my eyes and see just about any painting I love. And there are lots of them.
O/T, but damn:
OMG California actually seceded!
James E Powell
From my earliest years, I remember my mother taking us kids to museums of every kind, plays, the orchestra, and other cultural encounters. I was always kind of amazed at painters because I tried and could not do it. In high school, my circle of friends all read I, Jan Cremer, which made being a painter seem almost as cool as a rock star. What got me to take steps to learn more was seeing Leonard Nimoy do the one-man show Vincent. That led directly to me taking the standard Intro to Art History or whatever the class was called. Gave me a basis to continue exploring on my own which I do to this day.
Many years later, by happenstance, I represented a group of artists in a lawsuit against the landlord of their art studio complex. Made some friends there and learned a lot from them about contemporary art and artists. Made the museums and galleries a regular part of life.
Current faves: Cecily Brown, Mark Bradford, Sean Scully, and most of all Anselm Kiefer.
My brother and I had the Masterpiece game when we were kids; we played it endlessly. I attribute my A+ in Art History in college to that. Also, we grew up a stone’s throw from the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, which was an annual school field trip. My hometown has always had an active artist’s community as well.
My parents took us kids to museums in DC, which was a good start. What really made a difference was a little while after college when my wife and I moved to a little town outside Munich. We stayed for five years. We explored, with guidance from knowledgeable friends, starting in Germany but then branching out other places in Europe. Soon it became “We’re visiting this area; what museums [and ecclesiastical architecture] are nearby?”
@raven: Very cool.
I first became aware of Art as something worth knowing about (other than just looking at stuff in a museum) in high school, when I had the great good luck to accidentally take a course on Romantic Art (I thought it had to do with bodice-ripper novels, and thought that would be a hoot).
The instructor was a muscular, plain-spoken, crewcut ex-Marine, and my first thought was “Oh my God, what is this guy doing teaching anything other than Shop??” I turned out to be so very, very wrong, on all counts.
The course was about how art responded to, and was a reflection of, the 19th Century social upheavals, which were themselves a reaction to (against) Neo-Classicism. The ex-Marine knew his stuff and loved it, loved teaching it, loved starting with a given painting, or artist, and expanding on their role in their time, how the rest of society saw them, how and why their work was still relevant today.
The course was a revelation, nearly an epiphany. It was my earliest exposure to the idea that all things are connected, that nothing exists in a vacuum (and certainly not art). The idea of an aesthetic, of art’s relevance not only to wider society but also to history.
I wish I could remember the teacher’s name, because he changed my life.
@billcinsd: I love this one!
I started paying serious attention to painting and photography when I was in college and a number of my closest friends were artists. I was especially interested in 20th century painting, both European and American. I have no aptitude for it, so I started taking photographs. I was trying to create images that were stylistically reminiscent of cubist or abstract expressionist paintings. I also started photographing things that I didn’t think anyone else was even seeing. The greatest compliment I’ve ever received was by a painter and photographer of my acquaintance who’s opinion I greatly respected. She told me that my photographic approach was obviously influenced by William Eggleston. At the time I had never heard of him.
@billcinsd: A couple of years ago, the Neue Galerie in NYC had a great exhibit of Macke and Franz Marc: https://www.neuegalerie.org/franz-marc-and-august-macke-1909-1914
City museum here has a Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit. I’ll go after shots…
My father was in advertising, and he painted and sculpted in his spare time. I painted alongside him sometimes. He had a shelf full of art books, and he particularly liked Impressionism and Mannerism. I looked through those books again and again, Rodin and Monet especially. My school was college prep, so not much focus on art classes. I went to art school, majored in Illustration, but ended up in sales/marketing. ??
When I was laid off in NYC, I had a project where I would work my way through the Met room by room, even the back storage rooms. I just about did it; they closed the Korean Art section for renovations, but I saw everything else. Aside from the well-known works, I had the time to see all the other pieces. That was my real art education!
Alright. Much of my love of art came from reading about it and looking at illustrations in the World Book Encyclopedia. We had a set at home.
This was intensified by my love of comic books, especially the work of Jack Kirby in Marvel comics.
I was not big on museums. My parents didn’t take me and there were no school field trips. I am not sure that Dallas Texas in the 50s and early 60s had good art museums. Later, much of what I learned about art and sculpture I got from wonderful library collections.
Later learned that much of what I learned was wrong. For example, the white marble of Greek statues and buildings were originally painted with wonderfully vibrant colors.
Loved reproductions of surrealist art. Early on loved Frida Kahlo. Still think that Krazy Kat comics are some of the greatest American art ever.
In college, met people who knew that part of their role in life would be to become part of the Establishment. They would grow up and take their place on museum boards. Met women who were History of Art majors, preparing themselves to marry lawyers and businessmen and become patrons of their cities’ libraries.
I have mixed feelings about museums. Too often they feel like Art Graveyards. I have no love for snotty, snobby docents or for patrons who see museums as one of the perks of white privilege.
However, loved the shit out of the massive Picasso exhibition in New York years ago.
Most knockout experience was to stand in front of the Taj Mahal after seeing photos of it over the years. Next was probably the amazing collections of ancient Greek and Middle Eastern pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
During a business trip, took some time out to go on a guided tour at the Art Institute of Chicago. I forget the artist whose work on display was the focus. But the person conducting the tour wasted time talking about how shitty the artist was to women in his life. I later learned that a large amount of his work which depicted women was commissioned or bought by two sisters who were probably gay, which I found suitably ironic. I also would have preferred it had the tour person pointed out women painters whose work was in the museum that was worth seeing.
I first was exposed to art through an art history course in college. Then I went to France on a semester abroad program and could actually see the masterpieces I had learned about in the course. During my time in Europe I never missed an opportunity to visit the art museums in the cities I visited. Later in life, I thought it would be fun to actually make art, though I knew I had no inborn talent, so I began taking classes at our local musuem. It was fun to learn basic techniques and even copy the masters. It was a challenge to find my own style and to discover what I want to impart. I still don’t get some modern artists, like Kiefer and Richter(those Germans), and I think some artists, especially women, have been neglected because they did not fit into the culture where they found themselves. But art itself is endlessly fascinating.
Mingobat (f/k/a Karen in GA)
My family wasn’t really artistic — not only did I not grow up with it, but I was… let’s say actively discouraged from pursuing anything remotely creative. I’d always been curious about photography, and finally got an associates in it a couple of years ago because why not? From there I got to do some side work in a studio in Athens until COVID led to the owner shutting it down.
The university system here in Georgia offers free tuition for residents 62 and older. I’m 10 years away from that. I might go back and study art, because again: why not?
@billcinsd My wife fell in love with Franz Marc’s work and we both became fans of the Blue Rider, especially Macke and Kandinsky. It’s a great short-lived period of European art, I think.
Weren’t conservatives just yelling at Newsom for screwing up the vaccine program?
@RSA: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has some excellent Kandinsky’s. They’re absolutely mesmerizing.
@PJ: Der Blaue Reiter, nice. I would have gone, had I known. I saw a couple of Macke’s at a Museum I went to in Wurzburg
@Baud: Nah. We just like to periodically remind everyone that Texas doesn’t carry the nation, something they desperately want to claim.
Looking forward to a blue Texas so we can team up.
@Haydnseek: Ooh, thanks. Next time I get out to southern California.
They are yelling at him about everything he has done.
There is a weird insistence among conservatives that patriotism and libertarian values could have solved everything. They insist that Newsom is bad (and should be recalled) because he did not leave reacting to the virus a matter of personal responsibility, and that all his actions were smoke and mirrors because “nobody knows anything about the virus.”
These fools do approve of the vaccine, though.
DAM has been doing a great job with social distancing. We went to that exhibit a month ago and it was fantastic.
@debbie: No, it’s open all the schools and let people eat indoors and 35% capacity at Disneyland when it opens on April 1 is too low.
Feel the same way about museums. I often love going, but have never taken a tour. I like to just wander and look. Sometimes it’s an almost religious experience, and sometimes it’s a bit flat.
@Mingobat (f/k/a Karen in GA): Great art school at UGA!
Want to just jump in and say, generally, that I really appreciate all the comments. So many amazing experiences, and so much talent here.
My first “art appreciation” class was in middle school and there were field trips to the Met. I had a wonderful art teacher in high school in St Louis and frequented the fabulous art museum in Forest Park. I took drawing classes even in college despite the fact I have next to zero talent. I have an MA in Classics so I enjoyed classes in Greek and Roman art and architecture.
I married an architect who is also a decent artist. Our travels have involved museum going for decades. We are most fond of small venues like MoCNA in Santa Fe and the Reina Sofia in Madrid. The Dali museum in Figueres might be the most bizarre and fantastical.
We’ve been doing Quercles coloring (Thomas Pavitte) for about a month may be addicted
I read my brother’s college art-history textbook cover to cover. I used to walk 45 minutes to the Nelson-Atkins Gallery in KCMO. I knew every inch of the place. Strangely enough, now I can’t stand art museums. I used to love the Frick, so I’m a little curious to see the collection in the Breuer building, but probably won’t.
When I used to go to Moscow, my friends were book artists, and they were a fun crowd. Watching people make visual art up close is a thrill.
@CaseyL: You might find Olympia: Paris in the Age of Manet an interesting read.
People really into visual arts don’t actually talk about it much, because they are visual thinkers. Big exception is art historians.
To get specific, Velázquez, Juan de Pareja, at the Met is probably my most sublime experience, along with Holbein’s Sir Thomas More and Ingres’s Comtesse d’Haussonville at the Frick.
@Mingobat (f/k/a Karen in GA): My mom used to roll her eyes when referring to “creative people.”
@BGinCHI: Tours? God no.
Amazingly enough, I learned about visual art while I was in high school in exurban NE Ohio. My 10th grade honors world history class was co-taught by the school librarian and we spent a large fraction of our classes with him learning about how the symbols in visual art (and music and architecture) were intimately tied to the prevailing cultural norms and values. We started in ancient Mesopotamia and focused mostly on the classical world and Western Europe. Every class we saw slides (remember those?) of dozens of famous artworks. We took several field trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art to see important works in person. We learned about the subtleties of dramatic chiaroscuro, the difference between a low horizon and a high horizon or between a stylized or a realistic human form. Anytime I hear a baroque piece of music end on a major chord, I remember that means because no matter how hard life is, everything is OK (in the composer’s mind) because eventually we get to go to heaven.
The librarian was from my church and he taught one of my Sunday School classes. He also had a mane of white hair that struck me as elegant rather than just “old” so I paid attention to what he had to say. It’s hard for me to overstate how many good teachers I had at that nondescript school.
The one museum I still love is the British Art Center in New Haven. It’s such a serene space. I also love borderline kitschy Victorian art. Death of Chatterton, anyone?
When I was 8 or 9, 1959 0r 60, my Cub Scout den took the train from Baltimore to Washington to visit a museum or two, Art for me, Blue Collar family, poor Catholic school, was nothing more than a coloring book and box of crayons on a day too rainy to go outside. We walked into a gallery where I saw a painting of a dead matador immediately opposite the entrance. His feet followed me from one side of the gallery to the other. The docent told me about perspective, but it was magic to me and I was hooked.
I couldn’t tell you why, but of everything I saw at the Met, this is the piece that made the strongest impression on me.
Mike in NC
Grew up in Boston, where there were a lot of museums. Most recent museum visit was to the Salvador Dali collection in St Petersburg, FL.
Ceci n est pas mon nym
Museums I guess. I feel like kind of a cretin about art. I don’t “get” a lot of it, I don’t know why certain works are considered masterpieces, the stuff I enjoy I probably have the wrong reasons. For instance I love Pieter Brueghel the Elder for his subjects, like a bunch of drunks at a village wedding. I feel like I’m getting a true glimpse of the history. I could live without the endless portraits of rich patrons.
Despite not being artsy, I’ve always (as an adult) enjoyed museums. We spent a lot of time at the National Gallery when we lived in DC, and here in Philly we’ve seen a lot of the Philly Art Museum. And more of the Brandywine Museum which is close to us. They are connected to Andrew Wyeth and the Wyeth family, so I’ve learned a lot about him there. It was kind of cool to go there sometimes and see a painting that was so new it was practically still wet.
But there again I like things for the wrong reasons. My favorite room is the one dedicated to Howard Pyle, which is mostly illustrations intended for adventure stories. (Pyle is the artistic ancestor of the Wyeths, having taught Andrew Wyeth’s dad)
Oh, yes! I love that!
@Ceci n est pas mon nym:
There are no wrong reasons.
N. C. Wyeth was one of my first favorite artists!
I have had a little bit of museum-going but one girlfriend (now my wife) had more an interest in it, and I’ve developed my tastes with some of her help. Now when I go to a big city I try out the big museums and the little ones too (back when that was safe).
And her subscription to American Art Review is well worth the having around.
In return I’ve taught her about movies made before she was born, and nurtured her appetite for musical theater.
Growing up in rural Florida in the 60’s, I got exposed to quite a bit of art believe it or not. While my parents were not artistic, they were into music as was my one living grandparent. So my early exposure to visual art was album covers, then Life magazine and National Geographic. My grandmother, though not a painter loved colorful things and incorporated that into her handwork with embroidery. One of my mom’s best friends however, did paint and that interested me, but visual art took off for me when I got my hands on an old camera. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Bob Ross, watching him take a canvas from nothing to a painting, happy accidents and all, was amazing to me and one day I am going to give it try.
Mingobat (f/k/a Karen in GA)
@BGinCHI: So I’ve heard. I have ten years to get over the fear of being old and decrepit in a class full of 18-22 year olds.
I’m also not far from the University of North Georgia, so that’s an option.
Before the pandemic, a friend and I went to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. I really appreciated that the artwork was displayed intelligently, some pieces commenting thematically on others.
But it seemed a bit silly that the patrons were all observing some reverent silence, as though the art itself might be disturbed if anyone spoke above a whisper. Nor do I think that one should always look upon art while engaged in deep, meditative contemplation.
I would love to reserve a block of time at a museum, take a bunch of people, maybe students, and ask them to engage, talk about the art, have conversations with others there.
I would ask what art should be there that isn’t represented, what works for them, what doesn’t. I would not mind having a docent or guide present as well.
@Omnes Omnibus: Thanks for the tip!
It depends on how much of a crowd is there, and how noisy they are. There are definitely times I don’t want to hear a lot of chatter, or multiple tour groups talking over one another, when I’m trying to see some art I really like.
@Ceci n est pas mon nym:
I imagine that you have to paint who pays you.
I think your reasons for liking what you like are right on the money. And I think it is great to see the works of those who had a direct influence on other painters.
@Brachiator: That’s why I like smaller museums. The Bowers down here feels like a community museum. A bit more rambunctious. I’m also the kind of person that is impressed to see art done by someone who lived up the road from me more than what a Dutch guy did in the 16th century. Not that the famous pieces aren’t incredibly impressive, just that I think community art needs way more care and feeding. Someone will always be willing to pay $100M for the stuff from the dead white guy from a colonial power. It doesn’t need me to validate it.
I went to a Grammer school. As such we were expected to eventually become part of the British meritocracy and to display a degree of cultural awareness so, for the first three years, art was a mandatory subject. This broke down into 1 period a week of art history/theory and a double period of practical. Our teacher was heavily into op art and we had annual outings to art galleries. I can still vividly remember our trip to the Tate for an Andy Warhol exhibition.
I was never into modern art but I loved history and, looking at paintings of the time we were studying brought the era to life for me. Now, anywhere I go, a visit to the local art gallery/museum is just something I automatically do.
When my brother was alive we would make regular visits to London to go to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, V & A and British Museum. I love Italy, particularly Florence, although the queues to get in to the better known Galleries can be a bind.
I started grammar aka elementary school in Canada where I was born. We had art classes beginning in kindergarten in the art room with an art teacher. I liked the pottery room more so than the drawing room.
Ha, I have to say I don’t know shit about art. My first wife had and undergrad in Fine Arts and a Doc in Art Education. My current wife works her ass off “trying to make the world a more beautiful place” in the studio and her garden. I think sports are art. . . so there.
HOLY CRAP! I’ve never seen that.
@raven: Mrs. Robinson felt the same way…..
I know very little about art (outside of music) but my wife and all her friends are from the Getty, Getty Villa, LACMA etc., so they know tons. It’s fascinating to hear all their knowledge, especially when we visit museums. I will actually be submitting some OnTheRoad’s from some great museum visits from the past couple years.
Gin & Tonic
Who remembers seeing Guernica at the MoMA? This September will be 40 years since it was returned to Spain.
I’ve seen it both in NYC and in Madrid.
@debbie: Wow…..the craftsmanship on that is incredible
First trip abroad, five weeks in Europe Aug-Sep 1980, three rooms that knocked me on my butt:
1. The Pieter Brueghel room at the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna;
2. The Marie de’Medici room (Peter Paul Rubens) in the Louvre;
3. The Jeu de Paume as a whole, but especially Manet’s Olympia, which IIRC was in one of the first rooms.
I had never thought much of any of these painters until I saw their work in person and en masse. Brueghel bulldozed me by mass of canvas; Rubens I’d seen in nearly every city on the tour – the guy was a big-time factory, sketching cartoons out briskly with a bevy of assistants to fill in the details – but in the Md’M room I saw how he’d orchestrated what, 20+ paintings, into an entire coherent sequence & carried it out with aplomb and panache, and Damn, I thought, this guy might’ve been a prolific hack but could he ever rise to the occasion!
And the Jeu de Paume – the little building on the Place de la Concorde into which the French shoehorned the Impressionists before turning the disused Orsay train station into a more spacious home- I had gotten used to European museums with a masterpiece in each room, but there there was a frickin’ masterpiece on each wall, and sometimes more than one. And Olympia – No repro could possibly do justice to it; either the background would be lost in shadows or the bright foreground blurred into overexposure. As I found with most of the Impressionists, you had stand in front of it and shift your attention constantly to really appreciate it.
(BTW & FWIW, anyone interested in the times that gave birth to Impressionism should dig up a copy of Ross King’s book The Judgment of Paris., which focuses on Manet and the much better known in the day (and vastly better compensated) Ernest Meissonier – the arcs of their respective careers makes for fascinating reading.)
I was always a doodler and took up drawing after I retired then started dabbling with watercolor and ink washes. I finally took a watercolor class and was so blown away by all that I didn’t know that I kept coming back. Every class the instructor would have a book about different artists and would explain the technique and painting styles.
Now I look at paintings with an entirely different focus, like trying to recreate how the artist layed down the paint. Pre-pandemic I was at a gallery and was studying a painting from about 6 inches away trying to figure out how it was made when the curator came over and asked if I was an artist. She said artists first look from a distance and then get real close to study brush strokes, layering and other techniques.
Okay, here is my shameless self promotion
Well I paint, have pretty much always known how to draw. So looking at any painting I’m interested in, I will get up close, and then back off, and then look at it sideways, because I want to see how the brushwork is and you need raking light to do that. I try to figure out the layering and pigments. I’ve got a book from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam about still life painting, doing microscopic analysis of a couple dozen pieces, thin sections to show the actual stratigraphy of the pigments, noting that some yellows had flaked because they’re make from an arsenate that decays over time, all kinds of fun semi-geologic stuff.
Landscape, portrait, still life, do not understand or appreciate abstract art at all. Some things attract me because of the tonal quality, the lighting, the skill at imitating embroidered silk or lace, the atmosphere. Creating something three dimensional on a two dimensional surface.
It was a huge thing for me to discover that women have been painting for centuries and have in fact been extremely famous in their time and well paid, the crime being that they are later dismissed as being some kind of freak. Drives me nuts. I grew up in northern NJ and had field trips to the Met, and NO ONE told me that “The Horse Fair” was painted by a woman, (Rosa Bonheur),although it’s 16′ wide and kinda hard to miss. She had to get special dispensation to wear trousers so that she could visit the abattoirs to study anatomy.
Gin & Tonic
@debbie: There’s a similar object at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Pictured about 2/3 of the way down this page. I stood and marveled the first time I saw it.
Gin & Tonic
@namekarB: Two years ago when we were in Buenos Aires we stumbled upon the only South American stop of the J.M.W Turner watercolor exhibit on loan from the Tate. There is work you have to see up close and personal to appreciate his incredible craftsmanship.
I don’t know much about art other than I have very good taste. I met Maria Martinez when I was seven or so in Santa Fe and screamed at my mother and aunt that they wouldn’t spend my college fund on her pottery. wtf.
Then we went to an Ansel Adams show off the plaza and they were gobsmacked I wanted to buy a Moon Rise print for $4K or so. They took me to a pizza joint to shut me up and I played pong on a pedestal table and argued with them about buying Atari stock.
Would have been frustrated but upon our return home dad had made my room his listening room so I had his Akai reel-to-reel with his Vietnam Stones and Funkadelic so I came out ok.
My favorite small museum I went to was, the Museo Botero in Bogota. I like Botero’s work, and the museum was quite nice.
@Gin & Tonic:
My not-quite 3-year-olds were fascinated with Guernica when we saw it in Madrid-they sat in front of it and didn’t want to move. They even remembered it when we saw a print at a restaurant some time afterward.
My favorite museum of all time is probably the Orsay from a trip to Paris a couple of years later–I enjoyed that even more than the Louvre. The Dali museum in St Petersburg is also very cool (and very convenient to my in-laws).
A couple of things…if you’re ever in Detroit, spend some time sitting in the Rivera Gallery (Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry) at the Detroit Institute of Arts, four walls of murals that will knock your socks off. A few years ago we were in London and on our last day blundered into The Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House. We moved through the various rooms then walked into one room with roughly a quarter of a billion dollars worth of Manets, Monets, VanGoghs, Gaughins, and Cezannes on the walls. It was breath-taking. The only quibble I had with it was that the room was too small–you couldn’t get far enough away from the paintings to bring them into focus.
@namekarB: I’ve been in museums where I kept setting off the electric eyes because I was getting too close to the paintings. Others where the guards could tell what I was doing and would just give me the nod.
The workmanship is unbelievable. I cannot imagine how it was carved. No do overs back then!
@Gin & Tonic:
Yes, very similar. The first time I saw it, I whacked my head on the glass case trying to get a closer look.
My mom liked Impressionism and she had 2 or 3 books of color prints of various painters, which I read but wasn’t terribly interested in. We lived in a small town and my one desire was to get the hell out of there and live in a big city, which grew out of a trip to Chicago to visit the relatives when I was about 7 — I was absolutely seduced by the fountains and parks and orchestras and museums. So when I grew up I went to UCLA and settled in LA, and started going to the County Art Museum — which wasn’t all that great back in the late ’60s and early ’70s — but then they hosted a traveling Van Gogh exhibit which was the first time I’d ever actually seen his paintings instead of just pics in a book, and it blew me away. I’ve never forgotten the thrill of seeing that thick paint and realizing that photographs weren’t anything like good enough. My favorite painting, however, isn’t Van Gogh; it’s Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath, which I’ve been lucky enough to see twice, once at the Met when they borrowed it for a show about 1990, and again just a couple of years ago at the Getty, where I spent two solid hours just, well, worshiping it.
When I was in Moscow, I went to several museums. The Pushkin, of course, which started out showing copies of works in other parts of Europe, because it was very hard for Russians to travel. It now shows a lot of Impressionist and later works, often taken from the houses of the rich after the Revolution. The things I remember most are Schliemann’s treasures excavated from Troy. They were in the Pergamom in Berlin when the Russians captured it. A plaque next to the cases says that the director of the museum asked the Russian troops to take them for safekeeping. They’re still there.
I also went to the Tretyakov, which is devoted to Russian painters and others of Eastern Europe. Many artists that are rare elsewhere. My hosts took me to a gallery devoted to the works of portrait painter Alexander Shilov, which I didn’t care much for. The gallery itself was beautiful, but the works were nearly all of Soviet and post-Soviet politicians and military leaders. At least the entry was free because it was Women’s Day. That would be eight years ago tomorrow. С Восмым Марта, женщины!
This got me thinking about the role of art in my life, thank you all. I sought classes in visual arts in part because of a school friend whose mother was a watercolorist. I had amazing public high school art teachers. I was on the verge of a class field trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum when the 1990 theft occurred, and this was beyond thrilling.
I gravitated to the sciences professionally but I have made room in my life to take classes when I can and explore museums. Pre-pandemic, my daughter and I would take workshops together from a little nonprofit that hosted free family classes that were deliberately inclusive and accessible to all. It was really healing for us to make art together. Recently I found a photography school that does outdoor classes and I took my first ever photography class while walking Boston’s North End. The photos were trash but I finally stopped using the auto settings. That was a grownups-only class for my own mental health!
I get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated at big museums so I prefer to got to smaller museums or limit my myself to a specific exhibit within a bigger place. The DeCordova sculpture park west of Boston is a treat that can be enjoyed even now.
One really cool exhibit I saw in St. Pete was Norwood Viviano’s glass sculptures showing city population data changes over time. Data nerds and glass lovers can all appreciate it. Photos don’t do it justice but here you go.
The public art of Ruth Asawa and Benny Bufano – along with the WPA art all over San Francisco, the conservatory, zoo and aquarium started my love for art – and were either family or school related travel. The two have gone hand in hand ever since.
A wildly eclectic history with art, full of gaps, and also with art and artists at odd angles and off center. The two artists I knew well were Thomas Cornell and Leonard Baskin, and yet I know many folk and vernacular artists mostly in the needlecrafts. My grandfather was a portrait photographer, and at the end of his life a clockmaker. My father was a librarian at the Beinecke Library for nearly twenty years, and before that was at the Huntington Library, one of BillinGlendale’s major subjects in these pages, so my sense of what art is begins with Pinkie and Blue Boy, (so it’s huge and colorful), then is kicked around by John James Audubon’s Birds of America, the Double Elephant Folio (so it’s huge and colorful and also highly detailed and lying on its back oh wait that’s a book) all before the age of ten. It’s also Baskin’s Henry Thoreau stamp (it’s small and wildly calligraphic and in black and white) and it’s the Vinland Map, which may or may not be…but is certainly a small work of art. The Art of the Book, the binding, the making, the printing, the handwork, to make a precious thing valuable beyond its value, and the set of Principia given to Yale College by Isaac Newton himself, plain, elegant, and likely the most important book in the building, to a Johnnie.
I did the usual rounds of museums in NYC as a teenager, and remember being stunned by the Chinese ceramics, especially one sea-colored vase, at the Met. Objects, apparently, in preference to flat on a wall, except for Mr Mellon’s British paintings, which went to the Yale Center for British Art. I love a Stubb’s hoss, cos they are to the modern eye so very silly. Have done most of the DC Mall galleries, love the Renwick and the Hirschhorn, and the other places a little less as they’re a bit sterile. The Portrait Gallery did a show of Italian portraits of noble girls some years ago, the sort of thing a prospective’ bride’s father might commission, the better to advertise his daughter, and they were young and beautiful and obviously imprisoned So very sad. That was also my first experience with what happens when an exhibit is mounted with accessible cards for those in wheelchairs. In a room far too small for the interested attendees, I was pushing my son’s chair and could not read the exhibition cards–they were too low, and the typeface was too small. That was 20 years ago tho, so one assumes things are a little better.
Side trip to England in the late 70s, my only foreign travel, and I saw so many lovely things inside churches, and heard so many lovely young boys singing cos I timed my visits for choir practices, and the stained glass at Yorkminster stays with me, as do the Faberge eggs at the V & A, and the British Museum is a warehouse with too much stuff too close together.
DC’s nicest gallery, because it was a family home, is the Phillips Collection, up along Embassy Row. I went the day of the return of “The Boating Party”, which was glorious, as was the visiting Tate show, lots of Degas including that one dancer. Then I read “The Hare With Amber Eyes”, which tells of The Boating Party and netsuke and ceramics and most of all the connections among these things.
Which leads me to the connections between art and time. I read “The Rape of Europa” and got interested in the subject of lost art, which leads to many other things, such as what is owed now after all this time, and the question of reparations. Woman in Gold was a private matter but it seemed to set precedent, only it didn’t–there are agreements but they are cooperative principles, and seem to have less and less force. The Monuments Men sets up the dilemma, The Amber Room is fascinating and horrible, and just what do the Russians have, really? The descendant memoirs, of trying to find the art, illustrate how fragile our principles can be. There are heroes, too. Adele Bloch Bauer is in the Neue Gallerie, thanks to Arnold Schoenberg’s grandson. A portrait artist, Deane Keller, my father’s commuting companion, was one of the Monuments Men, and was deeply involved in the recovery and restorations at Pisa, after Allied bombing did so much damage.
I have no conclusions about art other than my tastes shift and I’m still learning.
I don’t think I had a whole lot of exposure to visual art of the kind you’d find in a museum as a kid; my parents were writers and actors, and they did a lot to help me love and understand both reading and drama, but visual art just wasn’t so much their thing. However, I fell in love with illustration and graphic art through children’s books—Tove Jansson and Edward Gorey were instant favorites—and any kind of comic books I could find, although my parents were more skeptical of the latter. I didn’t really give much thought to painting or sculpture until high school, where the guy in charge of the art program—who was a bit creepy in some ways, but did genuinely care about the subject—was so glad to find any students with an interest in art that, if you were one of those, he would give you a big reading list while also giving you carte blanche to spend all your free periods hanging around the studio area even if you were spending half of that time sneaking out to the pizza place.
By the way, I had never seen that Richter painting and I love it— thanks, BGinCHI.
J R in WV
I bet Google and some patience could find you that guy’s name. A year book from the school/year posted online would do it.
I grew up in a very, very rural parish on the Gulf Coast in the 50s – 60s. My parents bought the World Book encyclopedia and the accompanying ChildCraft series. That’s where I first learned about “fine art” — and a lot of other stuff.