|At the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.|
In the picture above, taken only a few weeks ago, I am standing in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This gargantuan structure is on par with the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., a beautiful behemoth sprawling with seemingly infinite exhibits. We only saw part of one floor...and we spent nearly the entire day.
I adore talking about art, about why it can make tears spring to my eyes, about what I learn from it, what I see in it. But how in the world do I talk about the lofty works we saw? I mean, these are works that define an entire culture. They are the totems of Western Civilization.
Awe, joy, a sense of smallness and even overwhelm, all of these emotions flooded through me as we navigated the crowds in this world-renowned space. I was struck again and again by the 'realness' of the works in front of me, and my mind kept whispering, 'this is the real such-and-such' in order to cut through a continual fog of disbelief. The real is on a different plane from the photographed or the copy. The real glows and moves and speaks and almost embraces you. It's the closest I can come to magic, how the color pools layered and textured as velvet, and the brushstrokes, made by passionate, worn human hands, speak quiet truths that still are here, after century upon century. Heady stuff.
|'The Milkmaid' Johannes Vermeer, 1657|
The other major museum in Amsterdam we visited was the one dedicated solely to Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh is like a demi-god in Holland, his work in a flashy modern complex that draws hundreds of viewers a day--quite the irony when you consider how shunned he was in his lifetime. I'm glad that I had the experience of being there, especially when stumbling upon the display of his grubby, beat-up tubes of paint and palette, a sight that moved me even more than his ecstatic paintings. Perhaps I was so moved by his simple materials, because it really was the most authentic aspect of the place, the most 'vincent' of the entire building--if that makes any sense.The crowds swarming four deep in front of every painting and the eerie almost rock-star promotion of this humble man really got to me. How surreal to see his haunted face printed on tote-bags and tennis shoes, postcards and books and coffee cups, to see his sunflowers blown up into posters the size of billboards. I surprised my husband by asking to leave early.
|Standing in front of Vincent Van Gogh's Childhood Home, Neunen, The Netherlands|
|Vincent Van Gogh's studio|
Humankind will always struggle with worshipping idols, and the arts are not exempt. We have a compulsion to build lavish temples to those who dedicated their lives to something as impractical and necessary as beauty, and we treat what is left behind with truly fanatical care. But it seems to me that the higher and grander we build monuments, the further we distance ourselves from the energy that resides within the art, and the life that was spent creating it.
How do we honor great art and still manage to see the sacrifice that lies beneath every brushstroke? That is a question for which I have no answer.