A Window into Art
VISITING AN ART GALLERY is almost always a visit to the past; to representations of people, places, and relics of days gone by. It’s not that you go to see the past for its own sake. You go to see the art as art.
But sometimes you go deeper.
Without really trying, you can stroll through exhibits and look at works on display. It’s a different experience, however, when you see a painting as a window into another world, another era, another life.
For example, all the portraits you see—those people had lives, experiences, troubles, and romances. They all went through life in different ways, saw the world in different ways, and died in different ways. Their portraits are snapshots in time, but the really good ones reveal more than what’s on the surface of the canvas. They show the broader life and character of the person. And one indicator of a great portrait is how far it allows you to see.
In the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, there are several portraits of people at different times in their lives. For instance, one princess when she was about 10, and then later about 40. Another of a painter when he was in his twenties, and again in his sixties. In both cases, studying the similarities and differences was very revealing. You could clearly see things that had changed and some that had not, as is the case with all of us through life.
The same thing was true of some landscapes and seascapes. They offered a unique window into the place or era or episode. And they were about much more than composition, color, and chiaroscuro. In the best ones, the artist and the artirst’s technique was so transparent that it allowed a vivid view into the scene and story.
As a result, rather than walking through exhibits looking at the art, I found myself stepping up to some works as though they were windows through which I could see into worlds, places, and people.
Being transported in this way by art is what great masters always strive for and sometimes achieve. Even lesser artists stumble upon it without understanding what they did or how they did it. But they know when it works.
And so do we.