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Seeing Things (2): Art and Love
January 15, 2008

This is the second in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums.

People looking at a Bierstadt painting

Albert Bierstadt; Among the Sierra Nevada, California; 1868; oil; 72 x 120 1/8 in.; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Bequest of Helen Huntington Hull, granddaughter of William Brown Dinsmore, who acquired the painting in 1873 for "The Locusts," the family estate in Dutchess County, New York; 1977.107.1. Photo by Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s the art-watching or the people-watching I seek out in museums. Museums, especially on the weekends, are filled with what I imagine are people on dates, long-term married couples, strangers meeting for the first time, partners of every stripe. I watch people eye each other across the room and think: Art is communication. Art is longing. Art is sex.  It’s so easy to smile at someone here. I love the unwritten rule of not walking in front of somebody while he or she gazes at an artwork or reads a wall label. There’s a dance to it all.

Today I watch a man put his arm around his date’s waist and say, “You have to see this.” There's nothing else to say. They glide across the room to the painting he wants to share with her. Isn’t this what love is all about: seeing things through someone else’s eyes, adding your life to the life of the paintings, sculptures, and photographs that surround you? The architect Louis Kahn said, “Conversations sound different in different rooms.” In the museum, there are conversations with words, and those that often speak volumes to our souls: those without words.

Posted by Howard on January 15, 2008 in American Art Everywhere, Seeing Things


Thank you so much, Howard, for your beautiful post. Art IS love: ineffable, and yet so articulate. It says more than we can say through any other means, which is, I guess, why artists find they cannot help but make art - NOT to would be an act of self-censorship, of self-destruction. And it's why sometimes I find I just have to be with certain artworks, in my home or in a museum or gallery: they speak for me when I have no other words. Other times I have to go hunting for the work(s) that will give me that relief of expression. When I move to a new town, I tend to find my favorites in the nearest museum and revisit them often; they are my touchstones and guides. We are so fortunate to have a wealth of wonderful museums and collections available to us, many for free, where we can find that solace and satisfaction. It makes me happy to read about the others I share that pleasure with, without even knowing them. Thank you again.

Nancy: Thank you. I couldn't have asked for a better comment: you got it. It makes me glad that I turn away from the art at certain times to see what's happening in my immediate world. Thanks again.

Very inspiring view of what we see when we visit these places. It's really something I take for granted, but, will spend some time looking at the people on my next visit as well as the intended displays.

Thank you.

Thanks Ryan. Write back and let me know what you were able to scope out!

Thank you Howard for your keen and beautiful observations. As someone who usually visits museums solo, I have always felt self-conscious of my single status amid the many gliding and pausing couples. At my next museum visit, emboldened by your post, I expect to be more solidly present in the galleries, and, as interested in the interconnection between the coupled viewers and their experience of the art as my own reaction to both. After having read your essay, I'll be keenly aware of the love present in the galleries, even my own as I move past the works uncoupled.

Thank you

Victoria: You've just written a poem and in it, showed me a dimension that I had missed. Thanks for opening my eye. Write back and let me know what else you've discovered on your wanderings through the galleries.

While I can understand how the experience of an art museum could potentially be efficacious for the casual couple or a reinforcement for a pair of seasoned patrons, I know that I would just as soon read a book concurrently then try to pace my way through another gallery with somebody else. Meaning, I wouldn't at all. At least not from my experiences. Then again, I've yet to gaze at Van Gogh while holding the hand of a lover so perhaps those rosey-hued goggles would fit nicely; know where I can find a pair?

My sole attempt at love a la musee was in strategically following the most beautiful girl off-canvas in the Louvre a few months ago for far too long to admit comfortably. I paused where she paused and attempted to muse over her shoulder more than once. Right now, sitting in a humid classroom far from France, I can still smell her perfume, picture the yellow print on the sundress she wore and remember the way she walked from room to room... but could not honestly claim to recall much in the way of the art that was hung on the wall.

"It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet."

    Kojiro Tomita

To this day I have a vivid memory of standing in front of Michelangelo's "Moses" - struck by the beauty of the art and standing in reverence to the artist's accomplishment. The way I appreciate that moment was its intention and your article reminds us all that it truly takes both artist and beholder for the art to reach it's full potential.

Great article - definitely gives you the idea there is more to life.

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