Monday, November 14, 2011

More Confessions of Ignorance

North Carolina is not
all Mayberry...
Depictions of North Carolina on film tend show us as kind of rube-ish... like in Junebug or Main Street... Or you might think of the homey goodness of the Andy Griffith Show. but, really, there’s a lot going on. We are pretty classy in our own way. I mean, we have a happ’nin’ local music scene, we have film festivals, and our capital city boasts a pretty great museum.

And just now, that museum has got some mighty fine works of art on display in an exhibit called Rembrandt in America.

First, I love the new museum space... Well, it’s not so new now, but it is truly a lovely space. Not much to look at from the outside... Sort of like a bright white warehouse... But I am guessing that white exterior lets in a great amount of bright white light. It’s a great way to showcase the museum’s collections of art from different parts of the world and periods of time. 
Our gorgeous museum

But what I’m here to talk about is the traveling Rembrandt exhibit they have going on from now til January 22 in the older building. Actually calling it a Rembrandt show is a bit of a stretch. I mean, there were not that many actual proven Rembrandts to see. Turns out to get in this show, a painting just had to be thought of at any time to be a painting by Rembrandt.

There were paintings by students of Rembrandt, friends of Rembrandt, admirers of Rembrandt.... People who had nothing to do with Rembrandt. Shadowy portraits of doughy-faced people who looked like they stepped off a cigar box... 

Now I am not in any way qualified to give an educated review of an art exhibit... Not by a long shot.  I never took art or art appreciation  or art history or anything vaguely related to that in school. I did, however, spend hours as a child with my mom’s art books open on my lap. To my shame, I confess that it was mostly to look at the naked people, though. 

And due to my utter ignorance, I often could not tell the difference between an authenticated Rembrandt and a fake, even though the people who wrote the descriptions on the little cards to the left acted like it was obvious... I mean, look how “unpainterly” the fake is, right? I know they have certain ways of distinguishing the real from the fake - brush technique, expressiveness of face and body - but it wasn’t obvious to me.

I don't know much, but I know this
isn't a Rembrandt!
Other other hand, there were a couple of paintings that had me wondering why anyone, let alone a museum curator, would attribute it to the great Dutch master. I guess it has always be considered a Rembrandt so people didn’t question it. 

Which brings us to another thing about the exhibit ... The descriptions tended to go into a lot of detail about how the painting got to America, and who the collectors were. Now I know that that the show is called Rembrandt in America, but I just didn’t find this information particularly interesting. I really wanted to know more about the actual paintings - the technique, the subjects, Rembrandt’s life at the time... 
Didn't those collars
itch like the dickens?

But all this aside, to comment on the actual paintings, I moved through the creeping line of museum patrons... nearly unable to take my eyes off the art. The people around me, my husband behind me, and my son who was hanging off me.... they sort of melted into the background as I took in the fascinating, dusky faces of the people who paid Rembrandt - and/or his workshop or students to capture their likenesses on canvas. I was fascinated by the stories and histories behind it all... what it must have been like to lived in the Dutch Golden Age.... and didn’t those stiff ruffly collars itch like the dickens?

One of Rembrandt's
self portraits
I loved that he made so many self portraits... because, well, I don’t think he was painting himself because he thought he was awesome and people would want to have portraits of him... Rather I think that he was using a face that was utterly familiar to him to learn more about art itself... the play of light and shadow, how use technique to capture natural and expressive facial expressions, how to convey the character of the person, and ultimately, the beauty of humanity.... In all these things, Rembrandt succeeded brilliantly. Although, it was interesting to note that at a certain point his fortunes declined and he had to declare bankruptcy... It’s a given that success does not really equal $ucce$$, right?

I guess I love his self portraits because it’s a little like how and why I write. I use a subject that I am way too familiar with – myself – to learn more about writing, to express some truth about life itself and the beauty of humanity. I don’t know how successful I am at that, but I know I haven’t made a dime! Hey! Look how much I have in common with Rembrandt!

1 comment:

  1. I'm hoping to see Rembrandt over Christmas break, maybe you can meet me there....
    and I sometimes spend an entire class or two just on Rembrandt. I learned something new recently, about how he used chalk underneath the paint to raise the surface. neato.