Thursday, September 2, 2010

Through the Looking Glass...

This past weekend found me in Washington DC wandering by myself among the Smithsonian and National museums. Climbing the stacks so that I could trace my fingers gently along the spines of books in the Main Reading Room, and requesting special editions from their Rare Books section. Happy as a tornado in a trailer park, I'm afraid.
I also spent quite a bit of time in the West and East buildings of the National Gallery of Art. Most people in Washington were at the rally on the southern end of the mall, and it seemed like everyone else had fled, so I had the museums almost completely to myself. Perfect.
I have a strange method of visiting art museums. I enter each room and approach only one painting in that room--whichever one draws me in first. Some I'm drawn to because I know and love the artist, so it's like greeting an old friend. (J.M.W. Turner and the Dutch masters, le sigh.) Others draw me in almost against my will, like I'm trapped in their web.
I was alone in the French Impressionists exhibit, placed strangely in the East Building and not the West, when I felt someone watching me. The feeling was so strong that I turned my head, expecting to see a curator or security guard, and instead locked eyes with this painting:

I knew the man at once--Edgar Degas. Famous for his ballerinas. I approached his self portrait slowly until I was only inches from it.

"Hello, Mr. Degas," I muttered like a crazy person, "it's nice to meet you."
Then I just stood there, waiting for this painting to teach me something.
His eyes hold a hint of uncertainty, like he isn't quite sure what to make of what he's seeing. And it has the eerie effect of making me feel like he's looking back me. I can't help but wonder what he would think of what he saw, if it were my face looking back at him. Like a window. Because, quite honestly, sometimes I'm not sure myself. If it were me he were about to paint, and not himself, what would I see reflected on the canvas? Where would he even begin?

His eyes seem to say "I don't know what to think of you."
"Tell me about it." I mutter back.

Later on, in the museum shop, I found the perfect mug to summarize my meeting with Mr. Degas, my perusal of the largest library in the world, and my own tears upon seeing the Washington Monument reflected in the Potomac River...

I am still learning. -Michelangelo

1 comment:

  1. Nice post... I'm so glad you got to go.