Thursday, April 21, 2011

Secret Lives of Paintings

One of the great and unique pleasures of museums is the first hand interaction with works of art. There it is, right in front of you. You can read about art, go to lectures, browse collections on the internet, but those experiences never exactly replicate the understanding that comes from seeing for yourself.
When the Google Art Project launched a few months ago, the power of visiting international collections and the ability to "zoom in" to an image created an interesting buzz in art and technology circles. This website seemed to do something others didn't, or didn't do as well. People were impressed.
While the Google Art Project allows you to scan the surface of a painting in great detail. . . well, in fact, so does your eye when you're standing in the gallery. The new technology certainly still has its place, especially in bringing art from international collections right to our desktops. The great thrill of looking up close at any square inch of the canvas you find interesting, however, is available to you in any museum.
Over the next few weeks, I'll post some photos (taken with my phone, no zoom necessary!) of paintings currently in our galleries, like the one here of Willard Metcalf's Kalmia, a depiction of mountain laurel along the Lieutenant River. In this image you can get a sense of areas of thinly applied, dry brushwork (the branches of the laurel) as well as the thick and gooey pinks of the blossoms cooled with lilac shadows. The sheer number of strokes -- of different quality, direction, color, and texture -- that make up this tiny piece of real estate is impressive.
I think you'll be equally impressed with the images to come and the secret details hidden in plain view on the surfaces of the canvases in our galleries. Come and see for yourself.

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