Thoughts on art and windows

Some of the best things happening at the moment are related to art.

Not being an Instagram aficionado, I read in 1843 magazine that Instagram is the place for art and artists. So I signed on and followed my favorite museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Uffizi, the Getty, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam, the Victoria and Albert, the National Gallery in London, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Bodleian Library (yes, I know it’s not an art museum).

Each are posting an artwork a day, and most are responding to questions. It’s a delight.

Most of these works, like most of my recent blog posts, are not directly about the current situation. And yet they touch upon the values, knowledge, and sympathies that inform our response to it. So for example, Antonella da Massina’s “St Jerome in His Study” (c. 1474-75), from the National Gallery:

 

 

This has been one of my favorite works since I first saw it. I can see myself there at the desk, reading and writing. (This is despite the fact that Jerome would not have liked me at all, and that if you look at it realistically the place would be awfully drafty.)

On Instagram, people replied to this post asking about the birds in front and the lion in the back hall, and National Gallery staff explained about peacocks and wisdom and the story of Jerome and the lion’s thorn. It had over 23,000 views in 13 hours. It’s learning, without a class, but with guidance and expertise, in an interactive environment, with object-based instruction and student-based inquiry. A perfect lesson.

When I first saw the work of Vanessa Bell, it was in an exhibit where the curator, Laura Smith, pointed out how views out of windows relate to women’s experiences. An example is “Interior with a Table” (1921 © Tate):

Some would say that women’s domestic lives are often more isolated than men’s, that over time many have seen the world from behind a window. Given a choice, I often prefer life through a window, but that’s because nature and I have an enigmatic relationship. I want her protected, unpolluted by my footprints. I prefer the idea of wilderness to the idea of conserving nature for human use. But I’ve also been teased, having been camping only twice and told that my idea of “roughing it” is a hotel without room service. Looking out a window, one has the illusion that one is in control of what is behind it. The wildness and beauty of nature is beyond, seen through glass. It can do its own thing, while inside I do mine. A Room of Ones Own must be a Room with a View.

Nowadays many people are supposed to be inside for awhile. There have even been art jokes about this self-isolating, and the tongue-in-cheek adapting of artworks. A copywriter named Peter Breuer in Germany posted this in Twitter:

Art can show, articulate, or contrast reality. A person can be put inside, or the outside can be swept of people. The work of Jose Manuel Ballester, which removes the people from art masterpieces, has a new resonance these days. For example, the Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” becomes “El jardín deshabitado” (2007).

I do miss the guy with the flowers.

Art appreciation can also be personal and timely — the Getty has people recreating art masterpieces all over the world. The idea of people using things they already have, to recreate great works, and create new things, shows the best of humanity. And yes, some people are working extra hours in dangerous conditions, while others are unemployed and too worried to create, but it is often at the busiest and worst times that art provides some comfort.

One of my Honors students just finished her final paper for this term. At the beginning, in January, she wanted to write about the history of social media. I assigned her Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall. As the term progressed, her topic gradually changed. Her paper is titled “Art and Technology as a Mechanism for the Reduction of Isolation”. And it’s quite wonderful.

It is said that the pandemic has proven the necessity of the arts and humanities. It’s true, and not just for the comfort they provide, but for the reminders. How to take the familiar and make it intriguing. How to hold an object in your hand so people see it and ask questions. How to change your perspective by changing your window. How to teach by showing instead of telling.

With the arts and humanities, we are part of a larger experience. We can be inside looking out, instead of outside looking in.

2 comments to Thoughts on art and windows

  • I have really enjoyed this post Lisa and completely agree how wonderful it has been during this pandemic to have increased free access to a wide range of art and artists. One site that I have particularly enjoyed is the Royal Academy’s site in London. This week I enjoyed the screening of their Manet exhibition. I have also watched screenings of Hockney, Monet and Picasso, and interviews with artists. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions-and-events

    • Lisa M Lane

      Thank you, Jenny! I had forgotten the Royal Academy, and another friend asked where is the Tate? Happily adding more. 🙂