The painting unfolded before me and in me.
I’d spent years looking at art, then promptly filing away the images. Wandering through museums, I encountered works by Rothko, Brancusi, and Degas. Often, they moved me. Yet I never lingered. There was so much art to take in, so I “stacked” the images in my mind, sometimes retrieving them in conversation, in my studies, or in subsequent museum visits. Mary Cassatt’s portraits of children sprung up in tender moments; Malevich’s White on White stumped my students; I sought and found Camille Claudel’s love story in her sculptures at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Yet somehow, I never allowed myself to sit with these works. After so much study and so many museum visits, I found myself in the National Galleries of Scotland in front of Van Gogh’s The Plains near Auvers. For once, I wasn’t prone to move efficiently through a museum. Rather, that dreary afternoon I planted myself in front of the piece that beckoned. Van Gogh’s green and gold fields seemed to move on the canvas. The grasses in the foreground swayed from side to side, and successive fields opened back toward the horizon, one after the other. I sensed that I was in the painting and that the painting was in me. My altered perception of space left me feeling a bit wobbly, but I remained “inside” the image, allowing my mind to move farther into the fields. By engaging in “slow looking”, I connected to an artist and his chosen landscape in a startling, deep way.
The Plains near Auvers still moves about in me. Sometimes, in a quiet moment, I inhale and summon the haphazard rectangles, the swirly sky, and the dabbed red flowers. Other times, the painting wells up, catching me off guard. I am glad to have my tall, orderly stores of images, gathered over years of museum time. They are my foundation and springboard. Now I know to be still with them, attuning myself to their quiet language of color, line, and shape.
Inspiring Impressionism: Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh, National Galleries of Scotland
The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum, New York Times