I have concluded art is very personal.
To explain why, let me share a diagram my friend, Steven, drew.
Steven’s theory suggests true meaning in art is found when:
1. The artist is inspired.
- Although this panel is commonly called The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo never actually gave it a title.
- Adam is obviously already physically created.
- The red cloud surrounding God alludes to a brain cut into hemispheres.
- So, one can conclude that perhaps this is not the creation of Adam, but instead the moment when God gave Adam His glory: intelligence. D&C 93:36-37.
The figures surrounding God all possess cherub-like qualities. Except one. Cradled in God’s arm is a woman whose eyes are fixed on Adam. The figure is presumably Eve, who already has a form, showing Michelangelo believed in a pre-Earth life.
You can’t tell me that isn’t inspired.
2. The viewer has an understanding of the subject, symbols or artist.
There were thousands of pieces of great art that I walked past without a second glance because I had no knowledge of it, the artist, or the symbols within.
For example, if someone were to see this painting without knowing anything about the story they might only see a gruesome painting.
In Florence I was looking at Ghiberti’s baptistery doors. They are 10 brass panels depicting stories from the Bible. A guard raised the bars in front of the panels, as they do every night, through the slightly ajar doors I was able to catch a this glimpse:
My jaw literally dropped. I didn't know ceilings or mosaics could look like that.
The next day Steven and I excluded ourselves from the group and went inside the Baptistery to get a better look at the mosaics we had seen a sliver of the day before. At first we were overtaken by the sheer beauty and awe of an entire domed ceiling covered in mosaics. We gorged ourselves on the aesthetics. Soon our knowledge of the Bible and the stories depicted on the ceiling surfaced and we began picking out the stories by their symbols. The eleven sheaves of wheat bowing to the one: Joseph. A man in fur pointing to Christ and later depicted with his head on a platter: John the Baptist. An open tomb: The Resurrection. The quiet baptistery and our previous mental preparation helped Steven and me to have a great discussion on the Gospel, Christ, and our own lives. The art was clearly inspired, we were knowledgeable, and therefore we could find great personal meaning there.
Journal entry of April 30th : “I’m discovering I am a very personal person. I always look for the signature on a painting first. I like searching for it and seeing how it fits that particular artist and knowing they thought about and created that signature – to make it personal. I love that.”
In London two pieces of art really stuck with me.
The first was this:
This cartoon (outline) by da Vinci is called Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and John. I would leave the room only to find myself coming back to stare again.
The second was this:
It’s called The Grotesque Old Woman by Quinten Massys. It satirizes women who idolize their youth. My teacher, Brother Geddes, leaned in close, smiled his wrinkly-eye smile and said, “You know, beauty isn’t a gift. It’s something you earn. Eventually you’ll lose your pretty, but if you earn it, you’ll exchange it for beauty.” You tell ‘em Brother G.
In Paris I fell in love with Van Gogh, the Impressionists, and the Post-Impressionists all over again.
Van Gogh, you started out as my favorite, but I forgot about it. Your self-portrait reminded me. Your eyes are the best part, I like the red outlining them. I made the alarm go off because I got too close to your painting.
In Paris I also stumbled across this painting:
I had seen prints of it before and loved it because it tells the story of this scripture: John 20:1-8.
John the Beloved is one of my favorite apostles because of his confidence and the healthy level of competition he brings. This picture says “Hope” and “Love” to me and I cried when I turned a corner and saw it. To me, that was the only painting in the room.
In Europe I had a designated “dirty” hand and a designated “art” hand. The dirty hand grabbed metro poles, opened doors, and touched hand rails. The art hand…you guess it, illegally touched art. Bernini’s David and Rape of Persephone were two of the lucky many. The smooth marble and absence of guards was just too tempting. It felt good.
I have seen this statue a thousand times in class and I spent plenty of time at the Bourghese Museum looking at it, circling it, studying it, but the only thing I can tell you about it’s appearance is the look on David’s face. It was impossible to be in the room with this statue and not try and mimic his face, his concentration, and consider his devotion.
The detail in The Rape of Persephone is so physical. I can feel her thigh bruising.
During the baroque period when Bernini lived, the word “rape” meant “abduct.” This is the story of Hades, the god of the Underworld, taking Persephone down to live with him and be the goddess of the Underworld. The ancient Greeks believed that we have seasons because Persephone’s mother, Cera, the goddess of grain, mourns and puts a famine on the land six months out of the year (fall and winter) when Persephone is in the Underworld. Persephone can visit Earth for the other six months. Cera celebrates by allowing crops to grow, giving origin of the world “cereal”.
I’ve already explained why I love Michelangelo’s David, but wanted to share one more thing. I was eavesdropping on three students from a different school talking about David when one of them said, “Good art allows you to see bits of yourself in it.”
Journal entry of May 9: Today in David I was able to see myself and catch glimpses of my potential. That is what art is about.
Journal entry of May 9: In stark comparison to Michelangelo’s polished and perfected David are his rough and unfinished Prisoners. The sign next to The Prisoners reads: “[The Prisoners] depict allegories of the Soul imprisoned in the Flesh.” This has profound meaning to me. I am glad Michelangelo never got to finish The Prisoners. I like seeing the struggle of the figures emerging from the stone. To see a figure fighting and pushing through is something I find inspirational. Couldn’t the body be the rough block of stone and the soul the emerging, and undoubtedly perfect, form within? It is such a beautiful, physical manifestation of the potentially perfect soul's desire to escape the natural man and its weaknesses and imperfections. Isn’t that what life is about?
Some other pieces of art that I loved:
The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg:
It just makes me laugh. From his upside-down glasses, to the leaking roof, to burning his manuscripts for heat.
Mona Lisa by da Vinci:
A lot of people are disappointed with Mona Lisa, but I had really low expectations and consequently was pleasantly surprised.
The Winged Victory:
Once at the helm of a ship, Nike’s (the goddess of victory) wet and windblown clothing was phenomenal.
Hopefully you can see why I love art so much.