saturday, august 13, 2022

Looking at Pictures Again

There was a time in which I was a little girl, frozen still on the floor, gazing into a book at a painting by Balthus.




I’ve gone through periods of life where I almost became “tired” of art. Weary of it. A bit nauseated thinking of it in the way that I’d grown accustomed to: as a professional in which I felt like a success or a failure by turns. It had become hard not to ruminate about the political or social controversies in the industry that have nothing to do with art, really, but had somehow eclipsed the original joy of making; of looking at pictures.


I used to sit in my room on the floor as a kid with a big coffee table book of painting on my lap and just look: and look and look. I could barely understand the language of the captions so that didn’t impact my thinking too much. I saw names and dates, a few words here an there I recognized, but I knew so little of history and the world that it told me almost nothing. All I really had were my eyes and my open, flexible, responsive mind. I would look and follow the lines and shapes and colors and forms and simply take pleasure in them.


I knew the paintings meant something. The full story I tried to guess, but being a little girl I couldn’t quite make it out. Yet there was the delectability of a limb, the blueness of a cast shadow in sunlight, the gaze of a silent face, distorted by the ineffable choices of the painter, moves that some how took away everyday reality, and turned mundane details into poetry. It was a silent poetry I was listening to, with my juvenile eyes and mind.


I’m only just beginning to come back to that original pleasure of looking. I’m losing my weariness and my wariness of art. The word itself is beginning to signify hope again. I know it’s something good, one of the great goods of life. And it’s something I am now becoming free to enjoy again, without having to wonder how I measure up, or how I can do better as a professional. Taking art works as gifts, and not always as instruction manuals in technique, or goads for my own ambitions as a painter, but simply as wonders to be enjoyed for themselves, is a quiet renaissance for me. I am grateful for it.