Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Art of Interpretation

I couldn’t explain what caught my eye in that painting.

Hanging out with a group of women, dressing up, and making a fuss over flowers, are all my least favorite things to do. So what was it that made me sit down on the observer’s bench in front of that painting and gaze at it for so long? What was it that drew me back to the Phoenix Art Museum several times to view it for hours on end?
On my first visit to the museum, I felt drawn toward the painting, Spring Flowers, by Julius Stewart. It was enormous taking up a large area of the wall.  The painting was magnificent, an oil on canvas painted in 1890. The painting’s size was enough to mesmerize any art lover touring the museum. It’s not a painting you can easily dismiss. Located on the second floor, I had to walk past it in order to view other artists’ work being displayed.
Strategically placed was a bench right in front of the painting. This was ideal. It’s pretty annoying when you find art work you admire and have to move along for others to view. The bench was perfect - I took full advantage.

I grew up with three brothers, and later on had three sons. I never got used to being with a group of women. I preferred the company of men, and had a couple of girlfriends which described my comfort zone.
Growing up in a male dominated life, I never dressed up. I wouldn’t say I was a tom boy, but hats, heels, and dresses seemed unnecessary.
Flowers were a whole different story. Memories of arguments between my parents, slight as they may have been, always ended with a bouquet of flowers being laid on the counter for my mother. This apparently symbolized an apology. What I learned as I grew up was it also meant the argument was over and would be forgotten. Even as a kid, I didn’t buy it.
Both husbands that came and went knew better not to present me with a bouquet of flowers if we had an argument.

So what made me fall in love with a painting of four women hanging out together, in their Sunday best, fussing over flowers?
I sat and stared at Spring Flowers for hours. Trying hard to solve the puzzle, I politely asked the museum docent for her thoughts. She explained art interpretation. How we internalize art differently is extremely personal. She continued telling me how researchers in the field of neuroesthetics actually study people’s brains to unlock this mystery.  She suggested books to study the subject further.
A group of women hanging out all dressed up, with fancy hairdos, fashionable hats for the era, fussing with flowers in a garden were all my least favorite things, always have been and I would guess, always will be.  A mystery indeed.

The minutes ticked by until they turned into hours and I knew I had to go home. The real world awaited me. It was time to cook dinner; check my kid’s homework, do laundry, etc.
While completing my motherly duties the beautiful painting was ingrained in my mind. I was perplexed, no doubt about it. When I told my family about the museum and the painting, they all laughed thinking it was a joke. They knew all the things I didn’t like - so why would mom like a painting like this? I had to agree, but it was what happened, and I felt what I felt, whether or not there was an explanation.
Needless to say I didn’t sleep well. The next day I anxiously returned to the museum and meticulously gazed at Spring Flowers for hours. Even though I was still confused why I enjoyed this painting so much, I felt peaceful and carefree. I couldn’t explain these feelings.
The following week I returned to once again sit on the bench and gaze at Spring Flowers. As I turned the corner and took my first step up the staircase I was shocked, like being sucker punched.
The museum moved Spring Flowers to the top of the staircase! It looked absolutely beautiful there as it most likely would anywhere. But I could no longer sit down on the observer’s bench to enjoy it. A feeling of sadness washed over me.
Wondering why, I inquired at the front desk. I was told the Chief Curator periodically moved artwork - no particular reason.
The empathetic receptionist acknowledged my disappointment and handed me a poster size replica of the painting. Expressing my pleasure, I left and had it framed immediately.

I’ve moved several times since, but Spring Flowers is always displayed on my living room wall. Every time I admire it all I can do is shake my head.


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