Saturday, August 11, 2012

Art and Commerce

When my daughter was in town, we went to the art museum one afternoon. I haven’t been there in ages; it’s just not on my usual itinerary, and it’s expensive, and I just don’t feel very connected to it the way I do to other aspects of Chicago culture. But it seemed like a good thing to do, a place to meet my mother-in-law and spend a few interesting hours together before having dinner. The museum was featuring a big Lichtenstein retrospective. I never thought deeply about his work before—except that it was pop and edgy and bold. But there it all was . . . 100s of his creations (drawings and painting and sculptures and prints) from the numerous decades of his career. 

Walking through the rooms, looking at the images (no headphones or guided tours for us this time), I felt that I could see and understand the structural genius of the work—the way he divided up the flat space of a canvas to create whole worlds and dimensions, the complicated use of geometry and lines and dots and primary colors, the precision, the way he knew how to lead the eye and economically tell a story. Later, when we left the Lichtenstein exhibit and walked through other parts of the museum, I could better see those same kinds of artistic and structural choices and techniques in other work and also who/what influenced Lichtenstein and in turn who he influenced. I haven’t done much formal study of the visual arts, don’t know much about the vocabulary (or the sometimes-intimidating pretensions), but I felt I understood something—because of life and experience and careful looking and thinking for all these years.

The Lichtenstein exhibit included one very large painting. My mother-in-law didn’t like most of the work in the exhibit; it’s too pop for her. But she did like that big painting, said it was her favorite. Here it is.

Something about this painting was familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Later, in the car, on the way home, I remembered: the sculpture I’d seen in Italy decades ago of Laocoon and his sons attacked by serpents.

I was excited to have put that together (not sure what Lichtenstein calls his painting; perhaps if I'd looked at the label, I would have known right away). My husband and daughter were very impressed when I showed them a picture of the sculpture on my Smart phone and that I had the cache of cultural knowledge and experience to draw from.

A few days later, we went shopping for clothes with our daughter, which is overall a pretty uncomfortable experience for both my daughter and me. I’m not a very good shopper: I rarely know what I want and what I don’t want and/or how to find it, and I get easily derailed by body-image issues and guilt about spending money and social/political critiques of consumerism. Still, when one’s clothes have holes in them (my daughter’s situation), one wants to replace them. I always feel I should be a better helper to her, and I usually feel that I fail--including in the sense that I have passed some of my negative attitudes on to her. She wanted some summer dresses, and nothing was fitting or working or looking good (top too big, bottom too small or vice versa), and I could see that she was starting to feel bad about herself. Ugh. All around us, hundreds of girls and women wearing summer dresses. They had all found dresses that worked for them. Surely there were dresses that would work for my daughter, who is quite lovely and very fit.

One more store, I suggested, and although she was reluctant, we went, and I saw a dress I thought could work, and then we saw some other things. And they did work (here’s one of the good ones).

Later, I told her about a conversation I had recently with one of my friends, who had been seeing a man several decades younger than she is who she found quite beautiful.
     "He doesn't even realize how beautiful he is," she said.
     “Just like we didn’t realize how beautiful we were,” I replied.
     And then my daughter asked why I was telling her this, and I said, “Just in case you don’t realize how beautiful you are.”


Anonymous said...

I am thrilled that you went to the Chicago Art Museum because your experience gives me the opportunity to comment on a GREAT happening to The Detroit Institute of Arts, which is in grave financial difficulty. Voters in Macomb and Oakland County passed a property tax to keep the Museum open. Hopefully Chicago is in a better financial position.
As for Art in general: I remember field trips to the DIA while in elementary school and an activity for other groups to which I belonged. The problem was that I was not mature enough or exposed enough to appreciate Art, a comparison to taking a small child to a symphony event which may cause life-long dislike also for early exposure
As an adult, I am much more open to different forms of art. My favorite is The Scream. That's how I felt after the 1994 S CA earth quake, which took our house off the ground and sent me running out of the State. Art can be very personal. Going to a respected Art Museum (unfortunately such is not the case in Phoenix) is now a treat as well as a learning experience and I regret not attending the DIA more often as an adult.
BUT: You did have the feeling to compare two very different artists. Points earned.
Shopping for anything these days is a hassle. Buying 6X is easy. Buying clothing for people who are not "of size" is almost impossible. My "wardrobe" (that's a funny way to describe it) is old/classic so waste to style does not exist in my closet or mind (I recall the Chemise as a particular affront to sensibility) and I find that a black slacks and appropriate top will take me anywhere. I haven't owned a dress or high heels for many years.
As parents, we pass along a lot of habits and ideas to our children, good and bad, but they do have the option to change.
Glad to see your blog again!

Susan Messer said...

Thanks for this. I'd heard about the DIA tax-property initiative. That's good news. All cultural institutions are struggling, but Chicago's museum seems very vibrant, as does the city in general.