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Beauty,Spring 2005
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A Picture Worth a Thousand Words: Experinceing a Painting


Malorie Garrett

"It's official," I said to Jaya half way though the Barnes Museum "I hate Renoir. I never want to see another one of his plump naked women again!" But as we turned the corner, what did we see, another Renoir painting. I was feeling really upset. I stopped being able to fell anything towards his paintings except annoyance. We had only gone through about half the museum and I was tense. It was a strange feeling to have a in museum. I never thought that I could have such a strong negative emotion towards a piece of art or an artist. I became feed up with the whole museum. Occasionally, there were pictures, Van Gogh's "House and Figure" for example, that I was still able to have a beautiful experience with. Yet at every other picture that I liked, the first thing I would think was "Why aren't there more like this and less Renoir?" The whole experience became almost comical. We would enter a room, and I'd gasp, clutch my heart and say "Oh, Look Jaya! Another Renoir!" Luckily, just when I thought I was going to go crazy, I saw a painting that restored my faith.

The colors was the first thing that I liked about the picture. They were so bright and sharp, not blurred like in a Renoir. Lots of individual dots of color. When I looked at it I just smiled, it made me feel so calm and relaxed. Jaya and I sat down and just starred at it for five minutes, talking about why we thought the picture was so beautiful. One reason was that it was so different from all the other pictures in the museum. It may be possible that this was the only piece by this particular painter, Henri Cross, or it is at least the only one of his in the museum that caught our attention. Even though it is George Seurat esc because of it's dots of color, it was still unique. I found this uniqueness both refreshing and beautiful.

For my second trip to the Barnes, I had a goal. I walked the museum with a purpose: that purpose was to seek out the pieces which I had found beautiful last time. I focused on my favorite pieces, completely ignoring Renoir painting after Renoir painting. I had assumed that I would have a similar experience or reaction to the paintings and that I would still find the paintings just as beautiful as the first time I saw them. Going in, I was sure that I wanted to talk about the Henri Cross piece. But as I reached the second floor and saw the Cross piece, I did not have the same reaction. In hindsight, I realize that it was na´ve of me to think that I'd have a similar reaction to the first time I saw it. Although I still found it was beautiful, it's beauty did not resonate with me they way it had the first time.

Seeing it again had made it become less beautiful to me. As I reflect on the picture, I find that what was beautiful about the painting the first time was not so much the painting itself as my reaction to it as well as my reaction to the museum in general. Thus, I could not talk about the painting in and of itself as being a beautiful painting. In my second trip, I was able to ignore the paintings that I had not found beautiful and allow myself to focus on ones that I thought were beautiful. My second viewing of the paintings fostered two different reactions out of me. I would either gain a better appreciation for it's beauty or become indifferent to it, like I did with the Cross piece. And while I can still find my first experience with the Cross piece very beautiful, as a painting itself in general I am not able to talk about it's beauty.

While I was not happy about my second experience with the Cross piece, it did help me focus on which piece I would talk about. On my second trip I realized that there were many pieces that I found beautiful that had not been able to focus on because I was distracted by my strong feelings against the Renoir pieces. I found that there were a set of paintings I found beautiful that where painted by artists that I had known about who had paintings which I had enjoyed before. For example, it was no surprise to me that I found Van Go's "House a Figure" beautiful. I find Van Gos' style very beautiful, especially how he makes swirls with the paint. Yet since I know his style so well as well as others like Seruat, that I was able to pick their pictures out. I still found their pictures beautiful, even though I knew part of the reason I liked them was because of the artist. Yet it was the pictures that caught me by surprise with painters I had never herd of that I have decided to focus on.

As searched out my favorites, I entered a room that held paintings which held piece that I had forgotten how beautiful I had found them to be. Reentering the room, I recalled what I had thought the first time I had entered. As I had looked around the room, I was amazed how many pictures in the room I found beautiful. On closer inspection, I noticed that most of the ones that I found beautiful were done by the same artist- William Glackens. The piece of his that struck me as being particularly beautiful was a picture of what looked to me as a dancing girl. She was wearing a black and white stripped one piece, the top having straps falling of her shoulders and the bottom being short shorts with lace around the edge. There is the edge of another dancer, making you aware that she is only one in a line of girls in matching outfits.

The picture was not particularly colorful nor does it have a particularly unique style, which is why at first blush it felt weird that I found it beautiful. Yet I was immediately drawn to it because of the expression on her face. At first, you would say that she looks content with a smile on her face. The more I looked at it, however, the more I felt that even though she was smiling, she was not happy. Her smile did not reach her eyes. I found her expression very beautiful in a way that I cannot quite explain. While looking at her, I started to think why she would have that expression. I imagined that she was dancing girl in a burlesque house of some sort. She is dancing not because she enjoys it but because she has to. That, for me, is why her smile does not reach her eyes, because it is a forced smile. I was able to relate to that forced smile in some way, and thus I felt that I could relate to the girl in the painting. I felt as though her smile was my smile. It is the smile we all wear to hide what we are really feeling. In that way I felt for me that she represented some greater feeling that all women have. I did not find any physical aspects, line or form, of the painting particularly beautiful, just the look on her face. It is the emotion and feelings that where translated in her smile which caused the picture to be beautiful to me.

The feelings that I had for the painting where only increased by my second trip to the Barnes. I decided that I was going to sit in the room and observe all of the Glackens pieces. I was enjoying just sitting there and looking at the pictures when I noticed that there was a tour group in the room. I had been so absorbed in the paintings that I had not noticed them since it was such a small group. The tour guide talked about Dr. Barnes and how he sent the museum up to teach people how to see line and form through beautiful experiences. She also mentioned that in the museum there were "good" examples and "bad" examples. I could not believe what she said, that Dr. Barnes had actually put piece that he disliked in to show what not to do. It made me upset and even less inclined to want to "see" art the way he did. I had actually blissfully forgot that he wanted us to focus on line and symmetry. I had not appreciated being scaffold into seeing art a certain way. I want to enjoy the art for what it is not because it mirrors the piece next to it. I renewed my conviction to not see what Dr. Barnes wanted me to see.

The tour guide continued by saying that it is because of Dr. Barnes focus on line and form that there where so many of Renoir's pieces in the museum, because Dr. Barnes felt that Renoir was a "good" example. Since I had not seen the beauty in Renoir's pieces, I felt that I was indeed not having the experience Dr. Barnes had wanted. Then the tour guide said that Glackens was another one of Dr. Barnes favorites, and another "good" example. I was crushed. How could I like something that Dr. Barnes wanted me to like? But then as I thought about it, even though I liked Glackens piece and found them to be beautiful, I did not find beautiful in the painting what he wanted me to find beautiful. For me, the line and form of the piece was not what made it beautiful. I was still having my own unique beautiful experience with the painting. In the end, I was still able to take away the same feeling about the girls smile.

Looking back on my experiences with the paintings in the Barnes Museum, I recall something Mark Lords mentioned in class. He said that the first time we see a painting we have a very strong reaction when we find it beautiful. But as we become accustomed to it, it slowly loses it's beauty, the painting "cools" and eventually "dies" for us. He said explained that we have "killed it by loving it" (Mark Lords March 22, 2005). I feel that that is what happened to me at the Barnes Museum with the Cross piece. I loved it so much that I killed the beauty in it for myself. I am not sad that the painting is not beautiful for me anymore. I am glad for the beautiful experience I was able to have with it that one time. I have not yet loved the Glackens piece to death so I can still enjoy it's beauty. Yet, there will be a time when that to no longer will seem beautiful to me. It does not make me sad to think of beauty as a felting thing because I know that there are always knew things that I can see and experience that I will find beautiful. You can never recreate an experience, you can only make new ones. I will always have my beautiful experiences with me, even if I no longer find something as beautiful as I once did.


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