ANNE BELOV, Dec. 14, 2012
“The Real Thing”
It had been eight years since I last saw her, but she was just as I remembered her: sitting quietly, pensively looking out the window. Did she have regrets? I don’t know, but there seemed to be an air of sadness about her.
“She” is “Woman at a Window,” by Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. This is not one of his more famous paintings; no ballerinas in frothy tutu’s or women toweling off after a bath. It is one that is well loved by painters. Its’ simplicity and air of melancholy speaks to me, and it has always been one of my favorites. I remember coming face to face with this painting. I didn’t know it resided in the The Courtauld Art Gallery in London until I came around a corner and there it was.
This was on my first London visit, that trip eight years ago, and we’d gone from the Tate to the National Gallery, and on to the National Portrait Gallery, positively drunk with the sheer number of well-known and well-loved paintings we were seeing in person for the first time; paintings I’d only seen in books or as slides in art history classes. Sargent, Whistler, and a host of Pre-Raphaelites, in all their lushly painted glory, were right in front of me. Skip through the Tudors, past the early renaissance and make a beeline for the late 19th century is my modus operandi when it comes to art museums. Who says you have to look at everything?
What’s the big deal, you might ask. In this information age where any book or image is available at your fingertips in an internet instant, why should we go to the trouble to see art in person? Why is it so vitally important to connect with the real thing?
For a painter, the answer is easy. With the painting right in front of me, I can see the brushstrokes, see how the paint is layered, guess at what kind of brush they used, and don’t even get me started about the amount of color distortion that exists in even the most expensive art books. Show me three different reproductions of the same painting, and I guarantee they will all be different, maybe even radically different. These clues to the artist’s intent, emotions, and techniques can’t be seen in a book or on the computer screen. When it is right in my face, I feel the paintings’ power and I can’t get that any other way.
It’s the difference between sitting down with a friend and seeing the distress in their face as they relate a private sorrow, or only getting a clipped text message on your phone, canceling a coffee date. Books and electronic devices have their place: you can pass a message efficiently or receive information. They should not be confused with real life, real interaction, real emotion.
Just for today, even for an hour, log off of Facebook and turn off your computer or cell phone. Have coffee with an old friend. Go to a gallery or museum and look at a painting or feel the surface of a sculpture. You can thank me later.
Artist Anne Belov has been visiting museums and galleries for over 40 years. You can see her paintings at the Rob Schouten Gallery at the Greenbank Farm. Her recently published book of panda cartoons, “The Panda Chronicles Book 1: Your Brain on Pandas” is available in local bookstores and at the Rob Schouten Gallery. And yes, she has seen real pandas.