My Eyes are Hungry (blog post #5)

My Eyes are Hungry.

By Steven Kenny

Salvador Dali, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening – Hope!, oil on canvas, 1940

As a docent for the Dali Museum I would visit there at least once a week. I never tired of returning again and again to paintings that I had already seen hundreds of times. The magical thing about good art, and especially Dali’s work, is that it always has something new to reveal. The more you look, the more you see.

Although I’m not a docent at the Museum of Fine Arts, I’m a member and did my best to pop in there as often as I could, too. I loved moving from room to room, being transported through the history of art.  Since I’m also a painter, I’ve probably spent most of my time looking at paintings as opposed to objects. I have many favorites in the collection including this enigmatic image. What the heck is that goat about to do?

James Henry Beard, The Circus Announcement, oil on canvas, 1866

Now that our museums have been closed for two months, I’m acutely feeling a sense of visual hunger. There’s nothing like viewing works of art in person and practically pressing your nose to them. The next best thing to looking closely at paintings in person is what’s available from sites like Google Arts & Culture. You’ll find an almost endless supply of world famous paintings to zoom into and scan at close range — probably closer than you could in a museum.

Bronzino, Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo (detail), oil on panel, 1544-1545

The best one can do under these extreme circumstances is sit in front of a computer screen and try to satisfy our artistic cravings electronically. What gets lost, however, compared to standing in front of the physical artwork, is a sense of scale. We are no longer standing where the artist stood. It’s like looking through a paper towel tube. Our peripheral vision is denied. We lose a sense of where we are — our sense of direction — in the overall work.

To their credit, museums, galleries, artists, and arts institutions are going to great lengths to bring art into our homes. The numbers of online exhibitions, lectures, studio visits, etc have exploded in a very short time. This phenomenon is probably here to stay.

Still, I can’t wait to visit our museums and galleries again and spend some time with my old friends.

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