Friday, July 23, 2010

Renoir Overload

I am an art lover, though no expert. In recent years, emboldened by creating my own art, finding the audacity to refer to my writing as art, and believe that it is, I've come to have bolder opinions about art. Like, for example, though I have no academic or artistic training in the visual arts, I can have an opinion. That was a radical concept to me. Because like writing, I think any piece of art means something different to everyone who views it. We bring ourselves to art and to writing.

So I'm just going to say it--I do not like Renoir. Considered one of the great master painters of the past few hundred years? Undoubtedly. To Julie Owsik Ackerman--don't like it. Renoir himself helped me realize this. I walked through the entire Late Renoir exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and though I really liked a few pieces--one of a young woman playing with a small boy, a tendril of hair covering one of her eyes, both enthralled with their game--had a sweetness, a natural quality, and love that shone through. That touched me. In others I admired the way a dress was painted. But in general, by the end of the exhibit, I was underwhelmed.

At the end is a painting by Matisse. Next to it is a story of how Matisse had shown Renoir that particular work, along with some other of his paintings and Renoir had said he didn't like them. He said that he would tell Matisse he wasn't a painter, except he admired the way he used black. But he didn't like Matisse's work.

That was my a-ha moment. Few would say that Matisse wasn't a great artist, but Renoir couldn't relate to his work. That's how I feel about Renoir. I'm not saying it's without merit, but it doesn't do much for me. I don't feel much, I don't respond much at all except to say, "Not another fat lady in soft light." Just doesn't do it for me. Why do I love Matisse's work and not Renoir? I like his bright colors. I like his juxtaposition of intricate patterns with simple human forms. I just like it. Something inside me perks up, takes notice, wants more when I see a Matisse painting. I want to stand in front of it, from different angles, spend time, notice how I react and why. Other artists I feel this way about--Van Gogh, Rothko, Degas, Rousseau, Kahlo, Dali, Rivera. Other masters I cannot relate to: Picasso. (and while I'm confessing things, Hemingway.)

Why do we respond to some art and not other? It's subjective. I love bright colors, so a muted pallate is not something that leaps out at me. These are all good reminders for me about my writing. Some people will relate to it and others won't. Just because some people don't like it doesn't mean it doesn't have value, it just means they're more Renoir than Matisse.

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