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On Sunday I went, with M and a friend whom I’d not seen in years, to an exhibition of Picasso’s work. I’d known very little about Picasso prior, perhaps little more than anyone else with a passing interest in art, but came away amazed.

The show spanned nearly an entire floor, and must have included well over one hundred works; visiting was like entering another world, or a different realm of human possibility. I am not sure whether it was the sheer generativity evidenced in those works, or the unbridled, almost terrifying, creativity, or the raw particularity of self that seemed to thrust forth no matter the subject or form, or some other panoply of reasons, but it made me marvel that such artists as him exist on the same plane as others. It make me feel crippled in comparison, and at the same time grateful that such beings exist.

There was something additionally surreal about the visit, too, in the fullness and diversity of the crowd and their strange procession through the show. The art museum had put together an audio tour, packaged on those perhaps-not-uncommon around-the-neck players, with information about select pieces and commentary about the works. I have an embarrassing appetite for facts and informational tidbits, and ordinarily would have leapt at the program. However, I’ve found that I’ll too-often dive into those to escape the deeper challenge of experience and reflection, and so declined the proffered audio wand. Instead I got to watch the museum-goers stand in front of each piece, heads cocked against the telephone-like devices, looking for all the world as though the art was, quite literally, speaking to them.

I felt a curious tension in this witnessing, as despite the shared story being broadcast through those devices, the experiences of the audiences seemed so isolated.

Perhaps it was I, watching without sound, who felt so. The isolation, after all, was only an illusion, as something had called each of those visitors–from so many paths and so many different mornings– there to meet at that same hour, in the same chamber, to take in something great. And this too was wonderful, and rare.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Picasso is on of my most favorite artists and although I always feel amazed and daunted when I see his work in person, he inspires me to do more, explore more, and with as much freedom as possible. You put it so well – it’s like witnessing a different realm of human potential. (And, you know, I never get those listening devices in museums. I doubt Picasso would have either!)

    December 21, 2010
  2. #

    I have a very conflicted relationship with wall text and brochures and audio devices. I too am hungry to learn all I can about the life of an artist, the circumstances under which art was made, the influences on an artist’s eye and mind and heart . . . And yet, I feel like if I can’t commune directly with a piece without being told what it’s about, it’s not very good art. So much of contemporary art is so personal that it seems to require explanation. And that just can’t be good. And yet, after I’ve looked at a piece, and sometimes before, I can’t help but scurry over to the wall text, or press play on my audio guide.

    But I agree. I don’t think Picasso would be caught dead with one of those things on his head!

    December 21, 2010
  3. Beth: Oh, you’d have loved this exhibit, then. It was nearly overwhelming to see so much all at once. (And now I’m tempted to run back and get for you one of the little accompanying totems. Perhaps I’ll try capturing some of it in pen and ink instead. I do want to go back before it closes.)

    Lil: We have such similar sensibilities. There’s a part of me that’s so resistant to the minutae of an artist’s life avalanching over what he or she had done with it, and another part that’s entranced as much by the molecular stories that shaped the creator; one part that wants to swallow the work whole, without guidance or context, and another that feels happiest when I can appreciate each nuance and message. To me the beautiful thing about this world, though, is that there’s room for all approaches.

    December 21, 2010

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