Monday, April 30, 2007

Drawing Conclusions

True Story #1 – About ten years ago Kate painted our living room walls. They were transformed from a sort of pathetic, washed-out beige to a vibrant cranberry or raspberry or other red(ish) fruit color. I am perhaps not the most clueful artistic person on the planet, so with some pride I noticed that the color of the walls had changed, and I complimented Kate on the great new look. That’s when she told me she had painted the walls two weeks previously.

True Story #2 – It’s the night before the first day of school. My daughter Katryn comes downstairs in a new outfit. At least I think it’s new. But I’ve learned that it’s best to assume that the outfit selected for the first day of school is a Big Deal, and to make noises like I know it’s a Big Deal. “How does this look, dad?” she asks worriedly. “Do you think the other kids will like this?” I look at her. She looks great. “I think the other kids will love it,” I tell her. Katryn falls on the floor laughing. Kate and Rachel start laughing. It slowly dawns on me that I’ve been been drawn into a Let’s Pimp Out Dad prank. “These are pajamas,” Katryn tells me. “I can’t believe you couldn’t tell they were pajamas.”

So, with that kind of pedigree, it only makes sense that I would attend an art show Saturday evening. We drove around Grandview, got slightly lost, and eventually located the big old imposing warehouse where thousands of artworks awaited our discerning gaze. Out front several “art cars” were decorated from hood to trunk with seashells, plastic figurines of superheroes, and various doll parts. “What kind of a statement do you think they’re trying to make?” Kate asked me. I had no idea. I don’t know why people would affix Barbie torsos to cars.

We wandered inside and met our friend Emily. Emily is a painter who works with beeswax. She’s a very good painter, and has won a bunch of awards, so I have no doubt that what she does with beeswax is quite impressive. We looked at her paintings, where she had slathered beeswax on a canvas, and then painted it various colors. They reminded me of a psychedelicized version of the little critters I used to see when I looked in the microscope in ninth grade Biology. They were certainly amoeba-like, and certainly colorful. Now, let it be noted that I really like Emily. She’s a wonderful human being, and she loves art, and I love art, too, and I want to be totally supportive of anybody who pursues their artistic dreams and vision. So I was really hoping that it wouldn’t come to this. But it did. “What do you think?” she asked me.

Please, God, no. Not that question. I gazed thoughtfully at the paintings for a few seconds, thought about tossing in words like “Cubist” and “Pointilist,” realized that they had absolutely nothing to do with amorphous blobs, and then just decided to come clean and take the honest approach.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I don’t even have a vocabulary to talk about this, nor does my brain register what is going on. I am the least visually oriented person in the universe. I am fortunate if my socks match. But I’m so glad you do what you do, and that you have an opportunity to showcase your work.”

It wasn’t much of an answer, but it was the best I could do. And Emily was very gracious about it. But it made me realize how much I need to learn, and how very much against the grain this kind of learning is for me. In the last five years or so I’ve read several art history textbooks, trying my best to rectify a glaring deficiency in my assimilation of All Things Worth Knowing. But it simply doesn’t stick. I get the Caravaggios mixed up with the Tintorettos, the Klees mixed up with the Kandinskys. And none of them help me with beeswax.

In a few more months Kate and I will travel to Italy, where there is some Serious Art. And so, in addition to brushing up on rudimentary Italian, and trying to grasp the finer points of Tuscan Chiantis, I’m going to work on trying to keep my Florentine and Venetian masters straight. It’s still a losing proposition. I wish I had more of an intuitive feel for these things. But as it is, I’ll probably insult the natives by conflating Leonardo daVinci and Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic and Titian, The Sistine Chapel and Sixteen Candles. At least I remember the soundtrack to Sixteen Candles.


Anonymous said...


The Whitman genes certainly were distributed unevenly in this regard. I'm so extremely visual, I feel like I can't learn anything unless I see it. I can't even remember a name unless I see it written. The visual arts are definitely my favorites. But I'm more likely to be irritated by auditory input than enjoy it. Mark always notices the one or two times a year that I actually turn the stereo on.

Care to scramble some DNA? :)


Jim Kelly said...

With my own 14-year-old son and a instinctively fashionable 8-going-on-18 daughter as reference points I have to say story #2 made me laugh out loud and will bob around in my memory banks for years to come, I'm sure.

Jim K