Monday, December 26, 2016

Art and Bourgeois Values

Pan and Psyche by Aristide Maillol. (a gift of Dr. James Land Jones)

How fortunate it is to be brought up by parents who appreciate art and music. My mother was a fine art painter and my father was an admirer of art and music. Mom adored Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Dad liked to listen to Stravinsky. There were always art books in our house to peruse, and as a child, I had the good fortune to hear the Savannah Symphony play the classics for my school class, taken by bus downtown, regularly. As a teen, I visited the Telfair Art Museum on occasion, enjoying the Ashcan painters and the marvelous works by Kahlil Gibran.  Later, in my early twenties, I actually lived in the house once owned by his beloved Mary Elizabeth Haskell.

24 West Gaston St. (my photo)

When I left for college, it was to study math and science. When I returned to Savannah to live, it was with a Ph.D. in philosophy of art. I spent some 20 years teaching at art colleges, including SCAD and the Atlanta College of Art. Best of all, I created the position of Art Librarian at the High Museum of Art to accompany my teaching at ACA. The wonderful and brilliant Gudmund Vigtel loved my proposal. During my seven years at the High, I was able to design and occupy a new Library space and to create a library/publication exchange program with many major museums in the U.S. and Europe.

Therein, we find my bourgeois delights. Almost daily in my new office, looking down on the High Museum across the street, I would open some magnificent catalog from MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum, the Tate, The Boston Museum... The publications from the High were rather marvelous too, often in collaboration with other institutions. Both the Library and I received copies of these latter publications of which I still own many-- a signed copy of the Avedon catalog, for instance. I often met and talked with top living artists at patron receptions.

As a member of ARLIS, I attended conferences in cities around the country where we had receptions in the best museums and art spaces, with visits to galleries and the like. The meals at receptions were feasts. At the Heard Museum in Phoenix we were greeted with margaritas in hand-blown glasses at the entrance, with Tex-Mex delights on silver trays within. One of my fondest memories is having the National Gallery in D.C. all to ourselves during the splendid Matisse in Nice show. I wandered happily from room to room of those divine paintings of open windows to the Mediterranean.

(From a recent New Yorker)

Here are some of the spaces ARLIS enjoyed in the years I attended: MOMA, The Metropolitan Museum, The National Gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Heard Museum, The San Francisco Museum of Art, The Getty Museum, The Kimbell Museum, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Nelson-Atkins... We met in New York twice during my years at the High. Every conference included side trips to such places as Taliesin West, art galleries and the like. There were also regional conferences in New Orleans, Charlotte, Raleigh, Birmingham, and of course, Atlanta.

Darryl at Taliesin West.

In other words, I loved the bourgeois privilege of having private art viewings, of grand parties, and best of all, an office I designed myself in an art library I designed, filled with gorgeous books of art and even some rare, very valuable catalogs with hand-tipped plates of the work of Kandinsky or other artists. The rare books were locked in a fine, antique book shelf in my office. In fact, the entire office was decorated with overflow furniture from the museum's exquisite Decorative Arts collection. From my days at ACA and the High until today, art has enriched my life. Travel has added the art of so many museums, galleries, and architecture.  From Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, and the art of Frida Kahlo to Nara and Tokyo to the Parthenon and the Pantheon; from FLW's Falling Water and the Sydney Opera House, to the Frick and the Uffizzi, I have had the blessing and the bliss of great art.

Should I be ashamed or proud of my exclusive and privileged access to art and parties created in artistic settings? Often, I've told the story that when I was working on my dissertation, I asked to see the famous portrait of Gertrude Stein  by Picasso at the Metropolitan. The Picasso galleries were closed at the time. A friendly curator asked a guard to escort me to the painting in question, and I had Miss Stein all to myself, with all the Picasso galleries, in fact. I felt that I had arrived in the World of Art, then. And the world of art has opened its doors to me so many times. Nonetheless, I do feel that we who love art, whatever our station in life or accomplishments, ought to be able to delight in such art as fully as possible. The Dalai Lama has said that the meaning of life is to be happy. I cannot imagine happiness without all of the arts: literature, music, and all of the visual arts.


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