Yes I am a little bit strange when it comes to art, what I like and what I don’t like. I love the classical period full of romance and things I can recognize. Modern art, not so much. I have to think too much, stare at it too much and try and wrap my head around what I see in front of me. The thinking part hurts my head. But these days I try hard to find things that will keep my mind active and alert and it always goes back to art. My recent trip to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art did just that. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like yet I have a hard time explaining either. It’s the thinking part. I guess if I didn’t want to think at all I would turn on Fox News and vegetate and burp when they wanted me to burp. But no, where’s the fun in that? I don’t need that echo chamber, I have one in my head. It’s the voices you see, they talk to me. Yes, they do…
So why on Spiritual Wednesday am I talking about art and Fox News. Well I believe that art springs from the spirit and Fox News springs from someplace else. Sometimes the value of that wee artistic voice is predicated on how much people “get out of it.” Wrong. Unlike Fox which is another kind of movement, art is a personal movement by the artist to express his voice and vision via some physical form. I don’t believe that the artist really cares whether or not the work holds any interest at all for what we think. My most favorite painting of the modern era is Henri Matisse, Femme au chapeau (the Woman in the Hat). Yes it’s French. It’s here in San Francisco at the MOMA. I make sure I visit with her every time I go there which is rare now. When I taught photography, I travelled downtown to see my girlfriend 4 or 5 times a year with my students. I told them it was a field trip to see the photography exhibits, but quietly it was a date I had with the woman in the hat. The years have been very good to her, not so with me. I have gotten older, creakier and bald while she has never lost a moment of her beauty. She is real class. I like to think Matisse was thinking of me when he painted her in downtown France in 1905, but he was probably thinking of her at the time. Yes that’s the way my mind operates. I know what you are thinking, I should get out more.
Today, Wednesday, I heard the sad news of the passing of another artist, also French (and American) Louise Bourgeois who died on Memorial Day at the age of 98. The cause was a heart attack. What’s the deal with Louise? She was a master sculptor. Her vision appeared in wood, steel, stone and even cast rubber. The works were alive and sometimes sexual in subject matter. Her work was comforting in a strange way. Even with my untrained eye her work revealed to me a sense of child-likeness, of a time long-gone except in the mind of Louise. The fantasy piece “Nature Study” which portrayed a headless sphinx with sharp claws and multiple breasts evoked in me the larger than life protectiveness and nurture-ness of a mother. And her playful Fillette, a penis made out of rubber which she would carry tucked neatly under her arm from time to time demonstrated a sense of humility and humanity and humor. But one of the sculptures that really took my breath away was her “Maman” sculpture a 30ft spider which wound up out side the London Tate Modern and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. I can imagine standing under it knowing that it will protect me rather than eat me. I will be able to see her Spanish version when I travel with the choir to Spain later this month. I wish I knew her in person. I know she was an atheist but down deep I also think she was deeply spiritual and that is probably why I am going on and on about art today.
She once said and I have taken it to heart, in talking about her artistic energy, both emotional and spiritual “I have a religious temperament…I have not been educated to use it. I’m afraid of power. It makes me nervous. In real life, I identify with the victim. That’s why I went into art.” I wish we had met, if not to talk then to build a huge spider. Thanks to Henri and Louise for leaving me modern art to think about and forcing my brain to function.