The other afternoon I went to the fifth floor at MoMA to see Monet's waterlilies. It was packed naturally. July in New York. But I managed to get close. Next thing I know, I'm getting choked up. Something about the intimacy of his hand. And the age of the paint, the age of his strokes. The colors. The panels. I guess the deep effort, the work and how Monet seemed to be there in the crowded gallery, full of tourists sprawled on the benches. Folks posing before the painting as their friends snapped photos for the album. Like we were at the Grand Canyon.
I went there to think and prepare for a class I'm giving this weekend on looking and writing, sketching with words. We're going to spend time at the museum. I wanted to visit some of the works again. So I looked at Giacometti's thin strange figures. There was Matisse's red studio, drawing a crowd of course, the way red can. And Pollack's mad splashes. I found some Rothkos. And Kiki Smith's women, which looked a bit like gravestone rubbings. There were some neat photos by the Bechers, known for their typologies. Oh, I could have roamed for hours but it was closing time. I ducked outside to dash in and out of the prefab houses in a lot next door. Small dwellings -- perfect for a writer!
Now I'm working on getting my readings. I'll offer a handful of so-called ekphrastic poems that riff on and off of visual works of art, some at MoMA. Then present some strategies for close looking and writing. Then we'll spend time in the galleries wandering and writing. It's really a generative workshop. Here's the thing. I need a disclaimer. Because as much as I love visual art, I'm all thumbs when it comes to the practice. And I don't have a background in art history or graphic design. I'm your basic English major, with lots of literature and language courses. What little I know I've picked up on my own. Like most writers I'm an observer. I like to look and listen. Nuance is important. And just gazing. Even with my eyes closed. You see better when your eyes close and your mind opens.
I yearn to be able to make. Do I repeat myself? Wish I could draw or paint or sculpt. (Have tried knitting. Sewing. Not good.) (I can bake bread.) (And other forms of cooking.) It's paint and color and canvas I lust after. I envy poets who can draw. That kind of mark-making. When I'm looking at a visual work of art, it seems closer to the imagination than language. Then the process of words moving across a page to create images feels clunky. I resign myself to language. No, that's melodramatic. I love words and letters and everything they can do. I am thus resigned to looking at art. And let Monet's swirls of blue and green swim and shimmer so that I might pretend.