Yesterday, Mark and I found ourselves in that rare and wonderful state of having no kids. Neva was spending the night with a friend and Kent was invited to Six Flags with Denver. There was a time when a quiet house meant our fancy would immediately turn to romance, but in this case we gleefully said, “Let’s DO something.” (Sad isn’t it.)
I’ve been wanting to go to Atlanta to the High Museum of Art every since we moved here, a concept that gets painful winces from the kids. The museum is currently featuring an exhibit from the Louvre in Paris – a three year cultural exchange with different elements of the exhibit arriving each October. I keep telling Mark that if he doesn’t get me there to see it, he will be honor bound to take me to France to see the exhibit in its entirety. We actually enjoy art museums, so he was the one who suggested we take advantage of the day to go. I was thrilled.
I happen to adore European painting and sculpture from the sixteenth through eighteenth century, because not only is it romantic and soulful, but I’m fascinated that the work has been preserved so long, through wars and changes in social attitudes and just physically surviving wear and tear and decay. Further, I’m impressed with artists doing such miraculous work considering the limitations of the times. They didn’t have electricity to light their way, glasses to help them see if they were older than 40, factories producing canvases or acrylic paints. They didn’t even have dyes to color those paints, but used ingredients from the earth. The tapestries are so detailed with such fine threads, I can’t help but stare, imagining someone sitting on a hard stool set upon a dirt floor, leaning over a hand made loom, threading the machine hour after painstaking hour with delicate, hand spun wool threads which already represent hundreds of hours of creative labor. I stare at the marble statues, so elegant and sexual, imagining a man chipping away without power sanders or progressive tools to do the job. Heck, the printing press wasn’t even invented to provide written instruction – each artist learned from others spending years as apprentices and/or a student supported by the crown.
People did these stunning works with only base methods at their disposal, producing representations of humanity and their culture in such painstakingly detail – at a time when even the simple act of making dinner or getting something to wear was a huge, cumbersome task. The idea that mankind made art a priority back when survival alone took huge effort, says allot about the role of art in their society. They were not nourished with an expansive arrangement of foods to provide balanced vitamins as we are today– and in fact, may have been riddled with disease. And their fingers were no doubt frozen half the year, slick with sweat the other half considering the barbaric living conditions of the world.
The respect artists earned (and the cushier life) says a great deal about the social castes and the imbalance in wealth too. My mind spins with curiosity about how we got from a starting the point where we were all equal Neanderthals pounding each other over the head with a club, to a world where select individuals became Monarchs making the rules and living so extravagantly it makes Bill Gates look common, while the masses were poor, lived a subsistence lifestyle and accepted their inferiority to the ruling class.
History reveals just how strange humans are at the core.
Anyway, we enjoyed the exhibit. Bought a season’s pass so we could take our time and see the entire museum over the course of months. We did check out about two floors of the museum in addition to the Louvre exhibit. One floor was contemporary art – neither of us like that style much. We simply can’t appreciate a huge white room that features four canvases’ that are nothing but squares painted the primary colors. I mean, I can read the meaning of the display and understand the symbolism intellectually, but I don’t buy it as true art. If contemporary art is something I can do without training or talent, it just doesn’t impress me. There were LOTS of pieces in this area of the museum that look less complicated or developed than the work our former preschool students produced. Contemporary art is just not our thing, I guess.
I love early American Art, with bronze sculptures of American Indians and paintings of the west and Victorian furniture and glassware and art. But just as we were enjoying this wing, the museum closed. Sigh, next time.
On our way out, a renowned Atlanta jazz band was playing under a canapé for museum guests. It was part of a “family day” celebration at the museum. Since it was starting to drizzle, we ducked under the tent, took a seat and listened for awhile. The only thing I love more than old art is great, vintage jazz. I was in heaven, but a half hour later, the set was over and the band started packing up. It was time to head for the car.
On our way home, we were going through Marietta, so we met up with some good friends for Dinner – thus rounding out the art theme of the day. The wife, Patti, is a basket artist (we met her when she was our teacher in a class at the Campbell school, but she eventually became a good buddy of Mark’s. They go to basket conventions together now and share all kinds of enthusiasm for wood and basket art. She is taking a soap making class at the Campbell school with me in Sept., but really, she is Mark’s best buddy. She introduces him to others as “my twin” which is comical because he is 6/2” and square, and she is 5/2” and round. ) Her husband, Mark, happens to be the one and only artist who draws Spiderman for Marvel Comics. He actually travels the globe to sign autographs and represent and promote the company and their current projects. He primarily stays home drawing all the time. It takes effort to get him to go out – usually this involves luring him with the potential game of pool and/or a cold beer – his obsessions. His primary obsession, however, is his work as a cartoonist – yesterday he mentioned that he is happy his character isn’t someone lowly like Stretch man, but a bonafide superhero everyone knows and loves. (And no, the hit movie did not boost sales or secure his job in any way – I couldn’t help but ask.)
We had a nice time. I couldn’t help but ask him about this work (which I’m told he likes to talk about, thank goodness, because it is an endless fascination to me and while I think it bores his wife, I can’t resist asking him questions). We had a rousing conversation about the new Harry Potter movie (we all don’t like the new Dumbledore) and talked about their last trip to Italy (Mark and I are going to Italy next fall,– we were considering France, but have heard such negative things about the local’s attitude towards Americans, we’ve decided it is probably not the best place to go for a FIRST trip abroad. We’ll wait until we are more travel savvy to tackle that one).We talked of raising kids and grandkids and our dreams and ambitions and everyday likes and dislikes. It was natural and simple and lovely – but we stayed too long considering the long line awaiting tables outside. Oops.
Anyway, it was a good day – good art, good friends, good music and a good meal. Laughter, wonder and NO KIDS. Doesn’t get any better.
Today – well, that is a different story. I’m cleaning up after animals, and weeding and cooking (that part is not bad) and doing laundry. But somehow I am distracted so the work goes by with ease. I am thinking about Louis the IVX through VIX and how spoiled Marie Antoinette was and how she must have been frightened and indignant and furious when the lowly peasants dragged her up to the gallows to decapitate her. I’m thinking of those tapestries and the meaning in their design, and wishing the nameless people who made them (and some with names we learned) could have known how, hundreds of years after they died, their creations hang in a place of honor where thousands of people admire them – and not just royalty. Bet it would have made them proud.
History is better than any fictional story – because if you really consider the details, not just the general facts, it is simply a collection of stories of individual people. And their stories are so authentic and remarkable it moves you beyond description. At least, that’s what it does for me.