There is something magical about Art in it’s classical form. Now there are many things I classify as art, but what I am referring to is more of the traditional form of art; paintings, sculptures, etc. So often people see these forms of art as walled off, elitist in many ways. To me that is farthest from the truth. Yes, many might try and wall it off, but when you actually read about the artists and look at their works, it becomes crystal clear, it is for all of us, not just who can drop a few million to then hide away.
What is a shame is that a lot of artists were total fan boys of whatever was the pop culture of their day (Degas, Miller), were absolutely moody adults who never grew out of the teenage angst phase (Michael Angelo, Pollock), dreamed of a better world they new didn’t actually exist but wanted to show in their paintings (Van Goth, Dali) or saw beauty in what most would call mundane (Picasso, Warhol). By looking at these works of art they can ground you in a way that the world tries so hard to untether you from.
I luck out, I live in Cleveland. We have the amazing Cleveland Museum of Art. The collection spans so much and so many different flavors, any mood you are in, it can raise you up. What I really enjoy is that they acknowledge that art can come in many forms. One of the favorite areas is where you can wander a great hall filled with armor and weaponry. On the walls, high above, the telling of a myth across about 8 massive tapestries plays out beautifully rendered from so long ago. Placing the two, weaponry and tapestries together helps to make you transport to the time when that would have existed. Tapestries were insulation back in the day of castles. In the large echoing hall it makes history come alive.
Aside from those I have above, there are a few pieces I always go see when I am there. They speak to me in an odd way. The first is a prayer book. Before printing presses, books were precious and the amount of effort that went into creating them was massive. When you look at the pages, seeing the painstaking detail, you can feel the pride of the creator in the work. Talented and deft at his work, it is awe inspiring to think of the amount of time that went into it’s creation. http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1963.256
Another is a painting by John Rogers Cox called Gray and Gold. http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1943.60 When I first saw the painting it reminded me of the beginning of Wizard of Oz. Though it is painted in response to WWII, it hits me at a more personal level. Beautiful and yet worrying, it has a dream like quality that makes you wonder which way the dream will go.
Lastly, but far from least, is a painting called Stag at Sharkey’s. Painted by George Bellows it is of a group of guys watching a boxing match. http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1133.1922 Boxing has always intrigued me. It has always felt like the violent version of dance. Where dance in all of its forms from ballet to krump tells a story, but in telling it is only making you aware, so there is a lack of finality to it. Boxing, and it’s cousins in martial arts and MMA, solve a problem. It comes in to play in the third act of the story and shows the resolution and holds out the consequences for all to see. Dance can seem so violent, especially when dancers bodies contort in ways that painful to see. Boxing looks so graceful and elegant as they weave together and apart during their fight.
What I think makes this painting though so amazing is that the beauty and elegance is shown as the bodies merge together in the painting. Like, dance, boxing is incredibly intimate and yet is on stage for all to see, often by those who don’t even sense the true beauty of it, only engaging for an adrenaline high, or as depicted, gambling. This painting captures this juxtaposition so well that the first time I saw it I just stood and stared at it for so long. It seemed to capture in what is a mundane premise and a sporting event the true beauty of everyday life that we all fail to miss so often. And that just hit me hard.
The Art Museum is my sanctuary. My hideaway from sorrow, pain and chaos. A place I can go and wander, with headphones on, feeling the weight of millennia of human culture helping to put into perspective how tiny I am in the grand scheme of things. And if I am that small then my problems are minuscule. It all melts into a abstract mess until the pictures of potential solutions start to appear as masters tell me their stories through their works, guiding me to what I know I should do.
I know it might seem odd. An Art Museum? Really? But really. Try it. But I mean really try it. Go and read the plaques next to the art. Look at the detail and image what it had to take to create it. Try and figure out how the hell that crazy idea was even thought up of by someone and what that person must of been like. Not everything will speak to you, but in some of those moments, you might hear something. And that can be wonderful.