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Monday, March 3, 2014

March Madness #3: Art

I spent an afternoon at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC recently. Why do paintings move me so? Why does walking through a museum fill up my artistic soul, and leave me so inspired? Perhaps more than listening to classical music does (with the exception of piano music, that'll never change), spending time in a museum refreshes!

Artists and Art, two things that us opera and classical types talk about all the time, but seldom are we referring to actual ART (like Saint Jerome) by actual ARTISTS (like El Greco).  Strolling through the rooms of Rembrandt paintings actually made me giggle a bit. Giddy I was.

Better men than I have written about the great painters, and their timeless portraits and landscapes and fruit bowls and cubist thingies. I won't try.

But I do wonder about the connection between putting paint to canvas, physically creating life on a lifeless flat surface and putting pen to paper, physically creating a sonic world on a silent flat surface. Both paint and pen are nothing without the artist who handles them. Yet once the artist has painted and the frame hangs on the wall, that art is done. It's there. Timeless, hopefully. Forever, at least for the lucky few.

Composers' works, once bound, sit mostly mute and silent. Unless a musician is looking upon the notes, or unless the composer's music has entered the mind enough to warrant the memory being able to recreate those sounds in your head, or unless one gets the required ensemble together to play it live, or unless it gets recorded and re-played, or downloaded, or it comes into your earbuds by happenstance through one's shuffle moded iPhone.  Slightly different eternity for these scores of music. Books are more similar in that way.

Yet, there's a physicality to writing music (at least there used to be before the terrible invention of computers and software like Sibelius.) There's a penmanship, a craft with pencils, erasers, pens, ink, staff paper, scissors, tape and glue. It all is part of the making of a musical score.  I don't think that artists who create art via software that anybody can download is in the same category as what Van Gogh did. Certainly the same might be argued for composers. I don't know.

What I do know is that in those rooms, in that one museum called the NGA in DC, I spent an afternoon looking at example after example of humanity's genius. From the Flemish masters to the Impressionists to the unknown artists who made Byzantine icons, there was genius in almost every stroke, every pigment, in the forms and structures of the figures, and in the emotions on the faces and in the leaves of the trees. I was transported into these artists' minds and was a better mind for it afterwards.

I didn't want to leave.

Us musicians can travel around with the world's great music in our heads, if we so choose. Do artists do the same? Can they close their eyes and recreate the visual splendor of a Manet like we can open our ears with our minds to recreate the aural splendor of a Rachmaninoff etude?  For me, I need these museums filled with paintings.

And that's why, friends, others need music recreated for them in the most visceral way!

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