Re-seeing Masterpieces: Chicago Art Institute

On my first day to the Art Institute of Chicago last week I was waylaid and overwhelmed by the talking heads in their great Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Byzantium rooms. We had great conversations. They had much to say. (See blog “The Eyes Have It” from six days ago.)

On my second visit, I focused on paintings by the greatest in more recent history, and I formed two tenets.


Durer’s Eve knees

Tenet #1 is on beauty: paintings that are masterpieces can be apportioned into sections of themselves that are small masterpieces that retain the ability to wow your socks off. The strokes, colors, and lines that make up the whole can be “reframed,” say by a camera, into miniatures that are in themselves transcending.

I am not sure this applies to minimalist paintings but I have convinced myself that it applies to representational and abstract paintings. It certainly held true for the best works of Durer, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, and – interestingly – Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove. Are there any works by Durer or Cezanne that are not “best works”? Surely, the artists among my readers can add more painters who never fail.


Eve’s leaves

Tenet #2 is on how to best navigate galleries not filled with masterpieces: when in a room of paintings that are not masterpieces you have two ways to bring more life and joy to the experience – study the evolution of a painter, marveling that they too could have a bad day, OR find sections of, ah, “lesser” paintings that are nonetheless thrilling. It’s usually in there somewhere.

Best is to look through your camera so that you see only what the camera sees, move it about, and wait for that moment when you feel a little brain “ping.” That’s it! You will have participated in the creative process by framing (finding) the marvelous something that exists inside the larger something that is less than transcending. You have become your own artist. (Think of it as a form of “cut and paste.”)

Below are moments, dim sum of pleasure, facets that I captured. To identify them all is tedious on WordPress, and really I just want you to look, to see, to feel without thinking about the where and when and by whom they were painted. Some you will recognize. Others perhaps not. Relish!

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