The Eye of the Beholder

When I was in New York last week, I did more than lose my wallet–I visited three of the museums that make that city a cultural mecca. Let me be the first to say that what I know about art would fit comfortably on the head of a pin. I never took an art class in college and am ignorant of many aspects of art. Huge museums like the Louvre drive me crazy and that’s why I always gravitate to smaller places that I can wander around in for an hour or two before my attention span conks out.

The Frick is just about perfect as far as I’m concerned. It’s not too big and it encompasses an era that fascinates me–New York’s gilded age that Edith Wharton captured so perfectly in The Age of Innocence. It was the time when the old money of the original settlers of New York headbutted the newer riches of the robber barons named Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Frick. Those men amassed huge fortunes, built fabulous houses and collected some of the world’s greatest art.

The Frick Collection is showcased in the 5th Ave. home the Frick family once lived in. There are works by Rembrandt, Titian, Renoir, Constable and Monet. But this was my favorite.

 File:George Romney - Lady Hamilton (as Nature).jpg

It’s called Lady Hamilton as Nature. Lady Hamilton–Emma–was quite the gal about town. She was born the daughter of a blacksmith and worked as a housemaid in her younger years. She also worked as an actress and model and was the muse of artisit George Romney who painted this picture. Emma was the consort and mistress of several influential men and eventually married  Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples. While in Naples she met and became the mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson. She outlived both her husband and her lover and died deeply in debt. Ironically, the many paintings Romney painted of her are priceless today.

This is the kind of art I like. Art with a story. Most of the paintings I own have a story–they’re of a place I love, a place I’ve been, are painted by a friend or have been handed down. They’re personal.

The next day I visited MoMA–the Museum of Modern Art. I saw a shoebox on the floor…

…and four yogurt container lids glued to the wall.

I love yogurt, and I have quite a collection of empty shoe boxes.

I just never considered them art.

14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Eye of the Beholder

  1. mongoliangirl

    Hahaha…so true that beauty is…
    The only time I’ve considered an empty shoe box art was in 5th grade when our class made them into Valentine card holders.

  2. And a big “Yay!” to that from a fellow philistine…

  3. I saw that Orozco exhibit at MoMA and thought it was DUMB!!! There’s another dumb exhibit at the Guggenheim right now. Two people on the floor kissing with the rotunda emptied out of all it’s paintings. Gimmie a break!

    The Frick is considered an artist’s museum. It’s the favorite amongst the few people I know who actually make a living by their art. You’re fortunate in that they just reopened it after a major renovation.

    When it comes to art, a little eduction is not necessarily such a great thing. Not only did I NOT take any art classes in college, I never even WENT to college! I consider my appreciation a more pure and visceral form instead of having my taste formed by the “experts.”

  4. But it doesn’t matter whether or not YOU consider them art. Only whether or not INFLUENTIAL OTHERS do. See how that works?

  5. Art is always a tricky one.

    I like modern art, abstracts in particular and I’m a huge Rothko fan.

    For me, I’ve never understood paintings of “things” as they are. I want to see a distortion of something, or even a painting that isn’t a specific thing so I can judge the piece by how it makes me feel.

  6. Julie Fisher

    When I used to teach junior high music/humanities courses, I always preached that as human beings we all have every right to our own feelings and understanding of art. What I find to be totally ridiculous and wrong is whenever I’ve happened to hear a “guide” in a museum telling a group what they are supposed to be seeing and what the artist means to be saying. Art is not a foreign language, and if words are needed to understand art I believe those words should have been included in the original work. (My sermon for the day. But, wow, that was fun!)

  7. MG–I remember those–every shade of red and pink under the sun.
    PG–I’ll wave my philistine flag proudly.
    UB–I’m quite relieved that you agree with me. I consider you quite the expert.
    Elise–The art world would be quite a different place if I were the critic in charge!
    Beth–That’s what so great about art–it speaks to us all in a different way.
    Julie–Y0u can preach to me anytime. Amen, sister!

  8. I was privileged to study Renaissance art in Florence my junior year. I don’t think I would have ever appreciated all those gilded triptychs of crucified, self-flagellating, or anorexic saints if I hadn’t had the benefit of learning about (a) the history behind the depictions and (b) the evolution of techniques. I’d still rather not have a crucifix hanging in my house, but I can appreciate a good one.

    As for the shoe box, there better be a friggin good story behind that one! (My Man and I were frustrated at paying to see a coke can on a pedestal at the Reina Sofia in Madrid).

  9. Ellie–Florence is a place I really need to revisit. I spent way too little time there with way too many people.

  10. I love the Frick simply because they don’t have art that suggests someone just needed a bench to sit on to don their Easy Spirit Walkers and nosh on some yogurt before dashing off to Central Park.

  11. I love the F too, and learning the story behind the art. I am with you on MOMA’s dumb exhibits, Enough already. I don’t enjoy the feeling of being hustled. Following you now, as I am sensing a kindred spirit….

  12. Dingo–Can you nosh on yogurt? I thought if you were noshing it had to be corned beef or some other deli-type food?
    Amy–I think the MoMA thinks we’re stupid so they can pull the wool over our eyes.

  13. I don’t know anything about art. But when I was in college, Mass MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) opened in our small Berkshire town and drew international attention. The girl I was seeing was a theater major and so I went because I was trying to fornicate with her.

    The first exhibit was a bunch of library books stacked up to various heights. The next exhibit was a bunch of 3′ x 5′ aluminum rectangles placed willy-nilly around the room. Then came the car with the engine torn to pieces and the parts scattered about the room.

    Some of the dumbest, nonsensical piles of crap I’ve ever seen. Yet everyone there just nodded and whispered excitedly to each other like all of it made total sense, and said things like “what a brilliant manipulation of negative space.”

    I broke up with the theater girl soon after that trip.

  14. In college, we would put some picture painted by my roommate up on the wall, and when people asked what it was we would say, “Modern art.” Then one day I came home and my roommate had just spray painted “Modern Art” across the wall itself.

    Speaks volumes.

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