January 30, 2017

A couple of weeks ago Babs and I went with our friend Linda to the last day of an exhibit at the Currier.  From the museum's website: the show was "first museum exhibition devoted entirely to art featuring the Mount Washington region. The exhibition features major paintings by Hudson River School artists, including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Jasper Francis Cropsey, John Frederick Kensett and David Johnson, as well as acclaimed painters such as Winslow Homer and George Inness." If you were a serious landscape painter working in the 1850s, New Hampshire's White Mountains were the place to go. Who knew?


If I had the money, I'd spend it all on art. But by the middle of the exhibition I was beginning to feel the way I felt a few years ago in Florence. Capella after capella. Madonna after madonna. Couldn't someone just get it right? Apparently, I am more of a Philistine than I thought. Or worse, a latent mountainist. After a while, all those mountain paintings  looked alike.


Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini. Or, "I may have to be the mother of God, But I don't have to like it."


There was one painting, though,  that I fell in love with, Inness's Saco Ford. It's a relatively large canvas, 38" x 63", and emphasized the softer side of the mountains rather than their majesty. In fact, the mountains themselves are hidden by clouds. The painting is soft, comforting even, an invitation to lie down in the fields by that slow moving, sandy-banked river and listen to the comforting bass of the cattle that graze the mid-ground.

 Bierstadt's The Emerald Pool.  A whopping "76.5 x 119".  It's one thing to feel insignificant in front of a mountain. It's another to feel insignificant in front of a painting of a mountain.  I don't think I would have liked Bierstadt.


About a fourth of the way from the bottom, a team of oxen pull a hay wagon away from the river and toward the left edge of the canvas. A human figure, the farmer presumably, walks next to the wagon. I envied the romanticized simplicity of that farmer's life. No earphones. No Facebook. No narcissistic, dangerous president projecting his many complexes onto the Constitution.  But as I moved closer to the painting to get a better look (or maybe to will myself into the scene),  the farmer disappeared completely and became instead a blob of white paint, like something you'd scrape from your windshield. I moved further back, the farmer appeared, legs and all. Closer up, bird-doo. 


That's genius. But how did Inness do it? I haven't a clue. But I don't have to because he did. 


                     Saco Ford"by George Inness. For once, I don't have anything smartass to say.


It's a cliche, I know, but also a good reminder: It's all about perspective. As a writer, I've learned from painful experience how important it is to step away from a piece, sometimes for a day or two. Sometimes for much longer. In the case of The Transmogrification of Roscoe Wizzle, I stepped away for seven years. With BULL, it was every few days.  When we're too close to our work, we run the risk of not giving it the space it needs to become what it wants to be. When that happens, nothing coalesces. The blob remains a blob.


As a citizen, I'm finding it hard to find perspective just now. It's impossible to know where to stand in order to see things clearly. Perhaps that's because the person in charge of the canvas is not George Inness; that is, he doesn't know what he is doing. Scary enough. But scarier still is that he insists the blob of paint is a farmer."Look what I made!" he screams (or tweets). "A farmer!" And those around him nod their heads and say, "Yes. Farmer." Most frightening of all, is that they then insist we see the farmer, too. 

                                                 Look! The Eiffel Tower! Or is it a farmer? A blob of paint? You tell me.


Fight the good fight, friends. I'd love to hear from you.



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