The Laws of Nature

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Art of the Pilgrimage

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)
Photo: "Spiral Jetty" by Robert Smithson, constructed in the Great Salt Lake, Utah in 1970

Chapter 9: The Art of the Pilgrimage

Over a hundred years ago, the author tells us, Walter Benjamin predicted that mechanical reproduction would eradicate the aura of the original art object for the masses that are ‘bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction.’ Benjamin offered the prospect that eventually any work of art in the world might be available in reproduction at the touch of a button or a click of a mouse. But, Kimmelman argues, the opposite is true. There’s been a notable increase in the number of people visiting museums, galleries and other art-specific sites. Nevertheless, We did lose something during the last century … it was a sufficient appreciation for the virtues of the pilgrimage.
The author takes it a step further. He enjoys visiting a work of art where it was made; for example, a fresco on a Renaissance chapel wall or an earthworks project in the Nevada desert. The point is A modest pilgrimage may restore to the act of looking at art in its desired and essential otherness. It can get us back to the root of art as an expression of what’s exceptional in life. How true!

Kimmelman points out that All art is site-specific in the moment that we are looking at it, being affected by its surroundings, whether the context is a crowded museum or a friend’s living room or an empty chapel, but perhaps especially art that is itself the reason you went to that place. That makes a lot of sense to me. For over forty years I’ve made the annual pilgrimage to view one particular painting in a certain museum. It’s a time of renewal and regeneration for me and also helps me better understand that single work of art.

Artists make works one at a time, Kimmelman adds, which is how we should experience them. The ethos of giant exhibitions, with dozens or hundreds of paintings, is antithetical to the conception of a work of art. I agree with this statement as well. When there’s too much to see then there’s nothing to see. I go into sensory overload and don’t spend the amount of time that I should viewing any single work of art. More is not more.

Kimmelman dedicates most of this chapter since to descriptions of art-specific sites that he visited mostly in the western part of this country. It makes a good read.

Next time I’ll post the final chapter of this book.
Have a great weekend, everybody!

What your thoughts?


Carolyn Abrams said...

Hi kathy, so glad to have you back reviewing books. I have enjoyed this one as much as the others as well as the comments. With regards to this chapter I found a couple of programs on the Ovation channel that takes you to some very unique art and architecture across the US. So if a pilgrimage is out of the question or the area, shows like this take you there. It was awesome. I had no idea there were so many unique things to see right here in the US. The shows were Artland and Scenic Route. Check out their website for reruns!! See you soon. :)

Karen Martin Sampson said...

Very interesting blog once again...there is a documentary on The Spiral Jetty that was quite fascinating...can't recall who made the film.

Anonymous said...

Hubby and I have been visiting many local museums (art, history, whatever) in the past couple of years. Many of them are not extraordinary, but we enjoy going because it is a creative outlay by members of the community. It is always interesting to see what others focus their attention to.
We both enjoy these excursions, it expands our sense of community. And it's fun to discuss how the museum could be better. Always a critic.

Jean Spitzer said...

I also experience sensory overload at museums. I love them, love to visit them, but don't love the slow tour of hundreds of objects. If there's a lot, I usually case the joint and find something(s) to be infatuated with for that visit.

wv: imono

not surroundsound

Celeste Bergin said...

I love art exhibits at recharges me

-Don said...

Museums and galleries. Can't live without 'em. When we go to any city I try to spend time in their fine art museums. It is sensory overload to charge through them with only a couple hours set aside, but I always get some great nuggets of inspiration from these forays. I used to work 3 blocks from the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA. For about two years I took my lunch there every wednesday. I really miss that here in Vegas.


Unknown said...

Hi Carolyn - Thanks! It's good to be back. I didn't knwo about the "Ovation" channel. I don't think I get it, but maybe I can find this show on Netflix. Thanks for the recommendation! See you soon :-)

Hi Karen - Oh, I'll have to look for that! I'd love to see it.

Hi Pam - I like the way you put it ... getting to know your community better. That's wonderful and enlightening, I'm sure!

Hi Jean - me, too. I usually focus on one small section of a museum with each visit. I can't handle going from gallery to gallery to gallery!

Hi Celeste - indeed!

Hi Don - how wonderful that you could spend so much time in that great museum!! Do you have a museum near you? I'm unfamiliar with Vegas.

Mary Paquet said...

Hi, Kathy -- I'm back, as they say. So many trips over the past several months. One more to go at the end of the month,

Your book reviews are gems. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. I am so happy to hear of the success you are having with your art series. These pieces are stunning, and especially unique because they come from within your creative spirit.

When I was on the Massachusetts coast, I found myself thinking of you often. Your sojourns to Maine must rejuvenate both body and mind.

Robin said...

Thank you for helping me "read" more via your book review. I am more visual than verbal, thus have always enjoyed visiting museums and looking at a few special art works to highlight my visits. I can never take in more than a few things at a time, I never stay too long, then I go home with specific inspiration.

Casey Klahn said...

I was talking about places and art at an opening last night. One couple of friends are headed to Barcelona, and we talked about Dali, Picasso and the architecture in Spain. Another friend talked about getting a Japanese original woodblock from Japan, and we talked about the Museum of Northwest Art in Washington.

There is a local guy who paints in the vein of A Wyeth, and he makes the pilgrimage to see his museum (Pennsylvania or Maine, I don't recall). I also got in a talk @ Chadds Ford with a guy from there.

Interesting topic. At first I thought your author was just bellyaching, but place and the artwork are more credible than I thought at first.

Unknown said...

Hi Mary - you're definitely a "gal on the go!!" I don't know how you keep up the pace. Thanks so much for the encouragement and I wish we had met while you were in Mass! But, we'll meet in 2012.

Hi Robin - like you, I must "edit" what I see and experience. Sensory overload makes me lose focus. You're wise to find specific forms of inspiration. I'm certain that serves you well.

Hi Casey - You hang with some interesting people! Actually, there is a Wyeth museum in Chadds Ford and the Farnsworth Museum here in Rockland, Maine has associated with it "The Wyeth Center." It's clear when visiting that museum that the Wyeth collection dominates - that is, all three generations of Wyeths (N.C., Andrew, and Jamie).

Casey Klahn said...

You might know Stan Miller. He paints in wc and also in egg tempura, and I place him in the A. Wyeth stream. Love Stan's work. I take him as a mentor and have valued his crits of my work.

I think he must go to the Pennsylvania museum to soak up Andrew's work.

-Don said...

There is no true fine art museum in Las Vegas. We have the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art which features a few shows each year, so I at least get to sample some great works. In fact, Laura and I went by there Saturday to see "Figuratively Speaking" which featured the works of 29 artists including Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Picasso, Renoir, Leger, Hockney and others. You can read about the show here.

I hope you had a great weekend...


Unknown said...

Hi Casey - that name sounds familiar; I'll have to look him up. Thanks!

Hi Don - Cool! I would love to have seen that show. Thanks for the link. With all the money that's in Vegas, I'm surprised there aren't more fine art venues!