Chicago boasts a fine selection of museums which I visit when I feel the need for a little culture. The Art Institute is one of my favorites, but I tend to stroll through it with the vague sense that I’m not getting it. Probably because I’m not.
My appreciation is limited by sketchy knowledge of art history and technique.
Last week, however, I explored the exhibits with my sister, Jan, who is an artist. She helped me see art through they eyes of an artist.
In spite of her protests that art history is not fresh in her mind, she gave me a short course trends in art over the centuries from Renaissance depictions of classical scenes to Baroque splendor to Realism to Impressionism and beyond. Cultural and philosophical shifts, of course, tend to be reflected in art.
While gazing at The Resurrection, a 17th century painting by Francesco Buoneri, Jan pointed out that Buoneri’s mentor, Cecco del Carvaggio, was known for using the interplay between light and darkness to enhance the drama of a work of art. Notice that the light falls on Jesus’s right side while his left side remains in the shadows.
That one piece of information led me to thoughts of Jesus as the center of an eternal struggle between light and dark, good and evil, life and death. The painting speaks of his victory, which a little art history knowledge helped me to more fully appreciate.
Jan and I discussed the emotions we felt as we stood before this painting, The Song of the Lark, by Jules Adolphe Breton (French, 1827-1906.) Hope? Longing?
Breton’s painting is an example of French realism, a movement in which artists depicted ”presentations of the world that were objective, unemotional, and democratic, focusing on common people and everyday activities rather religious or allegorical themes.” (Quoted from link.)
Jan got excited over one painting that I probably would have otherwise dismissed with little more than a glance. She showed me how the artist applied color to the woman’s garment layer by layer and then added brushstrokes of light with a flourish to add shimmer and movement to the woman’s dress. She swooshed her own arms to demonstrate those strokes of brilliance.
I asked Jan about current trends in the world of art. Interestingly, she said there is a movement back to classical training. She’s taking classes in the Academy of Realistic Art where students learn “to see the objective truths found in nature and the fundamental skills needed to represent them.” (Quoted from link.)
Is art reflecting a larger cultural trend back to basics? Is postmodern rejection of objective truth proving to be unsatisfying in art and in life? I wonder.
A day spent with my sister is a treat at any time and in any place, but I particularly appreciated our day at the Art Institute, for she helped me to appreciate some of the beauty, skill, and meaning I would have otherwise missed. (Thanks Jan!)
In a larger sense, the world we depict in art of any kind was designed by an Artist, and we will appreciate it more fully if we seek some background and perspective from Him.
If you stop to appreciate a work of art today, one created by a child, man, woman or by God, I’d love to hear about it!
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1