Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Milwaukee Art Museum -- An Emotional Journey Through Art

Things are beautiful if you love them.

- Jean Anouilh

Tralee loved this Chihuly glass sculpture at our visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum

I once took my dog into the vet for a usual check-up.  A woman walked in with her sick pup.  She wore sunglasses to mask the tears that couldn’t be hidden.  I assumed she was taking the dog in for its doomsday visit.  I felt devastated for this woman and her companion.  I couldn’t control myself, and the tears welled up in my eyes as her sadness consumed me.  “This is not normal Leslie, shut it down!” I told myself as I tried to stop crying.  No amount of biting my tongue stopped the tears falling down my face.

I’m sensitive.  My sensitivity is good and bad.  Bad in the fact that, when I was pregnant and watched a motivational video at my mother-in-law’s house, she walked by, saw my uncontrollable sobbing, and asked in horror, “What’s the matter?  What happened?”  I instantly realized how ridiculous I looked and sounded pointing at the computer screen blubbering how beautiful the story was about a father who runs marathons with his differently-abled son.  I knew the wide-eyed look that appeared on my mother-in-law’s face well.  It said, “Whoa!  Overreact much?”  That wasn't the first or last time I saw that look.

I think my sensitivity also makes me passionate.  I love to feel things to my very core.  When I’m angry, I’m fly-off-the-handle-scream-out-loud-emotional-wreck angry (my poor husband).  When I’m sad, I’m cry-into-my-pillow-like-it’s-the-end-of-the-world sad.  And when I’m happy I’m jump-up-and-down-and-screech-like-and-owl ecstatic. I’m not a knowledgable person about anything beyond my own experience but, I feel strongly.  I think that’s why I love art so much.  Art is as much about feeling as it is about mastery.  I may not instantly know who painted something, or what genre their style is, but I know when something moves me.  I feel the emotion behind the paint and canvas or whatever media was used.  I know when I get goose-bumps on my arm, I’m staring at a work that’s powerful.  I know when I get uncomfortable looking at something, that it’s meant to arose squirm-inducing emotions.  I know by wanting to sit and stare at a painting, that I’m connecting with something that can’t be explained in words.  Georgia O’Keeffe explained, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way -- things I had no words for.”  I feel the same way as the observer.  Sometimes there are no words, just feelings.  I love the emotions art stirs within me; happy, sensual, confused, angry, ecstatic, lonely, giddy, silly, empowered, and no amount of shaking my sleeve gets the emotions off them.
The Milwaukee Art Museum exterior and interior -- with Tralee and Haylee

Tralee and Haylee walking through one of the halls at the MAM.
Tralee in the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit
Haylee looking out at Lake Michigan in a room at the museum

When my husband and I were first dating, I had a favorite painting at the university art museum where we attended college.  I was excited to show him something that moved me.  He hated it.  It disgusted him.  I became angry, and lashed out at him.  I told him I thought he was a bassoon (I meant to call him a baboon -- being oversensitive often results in word vomit because you’re too emotional to think of the right thing to say).  I stormed off, and he found me, almost in tears, in the courtyard outside the museum a few minutes later.  What he said next shaped my understanding for art for the rest of my life.  He--my level-headed blue-eyed boy-- told me that he thought it was okay that I loved something and he didn’t.  He said that all art isn’t meant to be adored, but it’s meant to evoke emotion.  Just because the emotions we felt were different, didn’t make them wrong.  

Blind Momentum by Irving Norman
This was the painting I loved and Jim hated
We are all entitled to our own opinions and emotions, if we all agreed to like the same things, life would be pretty boring.  Pablo Picasso had it right when he said, “We must not discriminate between things.  Where things are concerned there are no class distinctions.  We must pick out what is good for us where we can find it."  And so, I’ve made peace with the fact that instead of visiting a museum with me, my husband would rather find beauty in nature, either in the colors of the fish he just caught, or feeling the wind dance up his arm.  Being outdoors is his canvas, that’s where he feels his gambit of emotions.  

These were at MAM when I was a kid.  This is the kind of art that infuriates my husband.  He says things like, "How is this art?  Even I could do that?"  This is the kind of art that makes me happy.  Happy that it starts a conversation.  Happy that something so minimal can also be bold.  Happy that the possibilities to dissect this piece are endless.
My sister-in-law has a friend whose family blog blew up when she wrote a post about the Milwaukee Art Museum.  I haven’t read her blog, but I guess her experience at the art museum wasn’t entirely appreciated, and the art community wasn’t happy with her about it.  My guess is they probably wanted to call her a baboon. . . or bassoon, you know, whatever. Was this blogger wrong in stating her disappointment in the museum?  I don’t think so.  Just as my husband’s feelings about my favorite painting weren’t wrong.  He felt a different emotion than I did while looking at it, and a conversation began between us.  Just as a conversation began in the art community after this blogger posted what she did.  From what I gathered, emotions were high, and the very art the blogger disliked was being talked about.  Learned about.  Discussed.  Experienced by people who probably wouldn’t have looked at without this controversy.  People were feeling things about art -- good and bad -- and I think that’s pretty amazing.

Tralee and Haylee at MAM
As a mother, I want my own children to experience art for themselves.  I hope that different pieces will excite them, confuse them, and make them think, and even better feel something.  If they don’t “get” a piece I won’t force my own connection on them.  Their souls have a right to connect with whatever they grasp for -- in or out of the art community.  I want to keep an open dialogue with them, but not pick up a painting and smash them over the head with it, until they agree to like it the way I think they should.  

When I was visiting my family in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, I took my daughter and niece to the art museum -- the very museum that stirred up so much controversy a while back.  We walked into a room and Tralee gasped, ran towards a painting, and said, “Oh!  I love it!”  It wasn’t a painting I would have gravitated towards on my own, but my daughter had some chemistry with it, so I embraced that.  I took a picture with her in front of it, and I read the placard to her.  I asked her questions, “What do you like about it?”  “How does it make you feel.”  “Why do you think it’s called Breath?”  I marveled as I watched her excitement for art mature.  I was a proud mama.  

Tralee's favorite painting at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Gerhard Richter
Breath (Atem), 1989

I was equally proud when I watched her face grimace at a piece that she didn’t get.  We talked about it for a minute, but she wanted to move onto the next room with art-covered walls. . . so I let her enjoy the journey.  

Haylee and Tralee with George Segal's The Store Window, 1969
I love both Haylee's and Tralee's faces here.  They were trying to figure this one out.

I watched her and my niece create their own art in the studios. 

Haylee and Tralee working on their art projects

 I watched them run up to pieces and installations that excited them, and move their noses as close to a painting as they could without touching, so they could see the cracks in the painting.  

Falling Rocks art installations

Haylee was excited to show me what was inside this suitcase.  She told me to look closely to see if I could find the feet.

I saw two sets of feet inside the suitcase. 

The top picture was Haylee's favorite the bottom was one of mine.

Looking closer at art

We all tried to find the oldest painting in the museum, and I think Haylee found one dated back to the 1400s.  I watched as my little artists tried to mimic what they saw, and pose like a portrait of a lady. 

I asked them how long they would be able to hold this pose.  

 I also giggled when we watched a video that was meant to evoke emotion, and my little comrades jumped and shrieked at all the right moments.  We talked about why the music and images in this movie made them feel the way they did.  I also didn’t worry when they decided they didn’t like certain pieces of art, or didn’t want to stare at a graphic painting of lady parts.  I let them lead the way.  

I was so happy to see both my daughter and my niece taking it all in.  Watching them run from painting to painting, or sit and stare at something, or ask a question about a certain piece was heavenly.

Some of my favorites from the day

I think I might have squealed when I saw the Lichtenstein piece.  A guard came up to me, and I thought I was going to be told to shut-it-down, but instead he informed me that there was also an Andy Warhol on the second floor.  YIPPEE!!

Tralee and Haylee loved the museum so much, they decided to become living statues.  I would pay good money to spend a day with these little beauties!

At one point the kids lead us into The Art of Animation exhibit.  This was so fun!  It showed us, through art and various art projects, how cartoons are made.  Some of our favorite movies were on display.  Tralee and Haylee had so much fun with all the little animation projects throughout the exhibit.  

Building their own princess castle

Pieces that inspired some of the  Beauty and the Beast characters.

Tralee practicing drawing different expressions -- just like the pros!

Sketching her own cartoon

I love the look on Tralee's face as she watches each frame speed by, creating a short movie clip.  Do you know it takes 28-ish frames per second in an animation?
Art (or anything for that matter) should be enjoyed by willing participators.  My husband, he’s an athletic outdoorsy kind of guy.  I’m not so much, although I attempt certain acts of outdoorsy behavior to please him.  I’m glad he still likes me, even if I get nervous a mountain lion will attack me while hiking through the woods.  Just like I still adore him, even if he sees a masterpiece I love, and all that stirs within his belly is gas.  He’ll still visit museums with me, every now and again, because he’s cool like that.  As for our children, I hope they can get equally excited hiking with their dad, as they do perusing art with their mom.  If they gravitate towards one more than they other, or something entirely different than their parents, we’ll be supportive.  Like most parents, we want our children to feel passionately about whatever excites them.  Whatever makes them feel emotions more powerfully than anything, that’s what we’ll embrace.  For me, I get excited about art.  It brings out my sensitive nature and passionate emotions that can’t be contained. . . no matter how hard I bite my tongue.

Leaving the museum -- it was a good day.

1 comment:

Jim said...

What a fantastic post! And it did not cost me a cent!

Love Mom