Saturday, January 23, 2010

An Enhanced Art Viewing Experience

North Shore, Lake Superior (Lawren Harris)

LinkI sat on the lone black leather bench positioned in the middle of the room and took it all in: straight ahead through a doorway, on the far wall of an adjacent gallery, Emily Carr's The Welcome Man and Fir Tree and Sky; to my left, Tom Thomson's Pine Island; to my right, Lawren Harris' iconic North Shore Lake Superior (above). It was all so beautiful I suddenly wanted to cry, tears welling quickly and unexpectedly.

I'd seen these pieces before, but never did they trigger such intense emotion. I blame three things:
  • a spontaneous library find called Great Canadian Painting - A Century of Art (published in 1966) through which I'm learning more about Canadian artists with whom I'm already familiar and discovering artists I never even knew existed,
  • Emily Carr's Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of an Artist, and
  • my taking up painting.
With just the little bit of knowledge gained through the first book and the glimpse into Ms Carr's interior landscape through the second, I felt a more intimate connection to the work in front of me.

I imagined Tom Thomson painting in full woodsman garb and a canoe; wondered if Emily Carr was dealing with turmoil the day she painted those two pieces or if she felt peaceful and content. I was drawn by an inexplicable spiritual quality coming through in Lawren Harris' piece that Ms Carr so admired in his work.

I also looked at colour, composition and brush strokes with a new perspective. I leaned in close and studied the paintings at different angles to observe textures and layers, taking mental notes to emulate some of it back in my studio, anxious to learn even more through practice.

Frankly it all took me by surprise. I had no idea that satisfying an artistic curiosity would have such an effect.

The moral of this story you ask? Learning about art - and artists - has the potential to enhance one's art viewing experience tenfold, adding depth and intimacy where before there was merely interest and admiration. I believe it; today's experience was my personal proof in the pudding.

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