Lessons From MoMA
Last weekend I traveled to New York to visit my brother. On the last day of my trip I went to the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) with my aunt. We saw an exhibit on the later work of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). The exhibit collected many of Gauguin's woodcuts and transfer drawings and complemented them with other works from his life on the Marquesas Islands. It provided a fascinating look into the life of an artist who traveled many miles to differentiate himself from his contemporaries.
At the end of the exhibit we had some time to walk around the museum's permanent collections. The work of Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, etc. filled the walls of the other rooms. Juxtaposed, it's obvious to see how these artists developed a unique and recognizable style, yet were all influenced by each other's work. Art is a reflection of life.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of visiting any museum exhibit is the amount of work these artists produced. As I walked by canvases ten times my size, I couldn't help but imagine I was viewing months of their lives hanging on the walls. What's the secret to producing mass quantities of art?
Some of the beauty of art is derived from the appreciation of the time invested while completing the work. Anyone can draw stick figures, not everyone can draw tens of thousands of stick figures. Prolific output takes discipline, and the desire to finish what you've started.
Great artists understand that completing a work gives it a life of its own. A finished painting leaves the studio to be "consumed" by the public. I wonder how many Mona Lisas were painted but never shared.
Every artist with work hanging in the MoMA has a unique style. There are no Xerox machines with work on the walls.
Beneath some of the paintings at the MoMA and other museums are small stories about the work hanging above. Even though the story is just printed text, I often find these almost as fascinating as the work itself. Without a story a painting has little context. It's great listening to people psychoanalyze artists. What were they thinking? Where were they living? Who did they associate with?
Art is a reflection of life. If you understand the life, you may have a better chance to understand the art.