Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ecce Homo!

This post is better left unread. This article might appear to be full of snobbery, dropping names all over and everything that can apparently provide evidence for my "refined artistic tastes". So be warned. This is just about my observations and not meant to be any study/guide for appreciating art.

February 9, 2008.

Probably today was the best day in my trip here to London I guess. I visited The National Gallery near Trafalgar Square. Spent about 4 hours over there gazing at quite a few paintings from different eras. After the first half hour, I had a slight doubt whether I had taken too bad a decision, in a vain effort to just to prove, if not to others at least to myself, that I have "refined artistic" tastes and "unlike the masses" I can appreciate art. Which anyway is just BS, I know. Except for Da Vinci's most revered "Madonna on the Rocks" and another of Da Vinci's pencil sketches, I did not find anything quite interesting. In fact, I was kind of put off by most of the paintings especially because of their painstaking detail and bright colors that you find in calendar pictures. Most of the paintings were about Christ - different variations of Virgin Mary, Adoration of the Kings and Lamentation of dead Christ.

And that was until I reached the room 16, a pretty small room which had Early Rembrandt and other Dutch Landscapes. After a distasteful garishness of the previous paintings I saw, it was a delightful relief to see a few early Rembrandts. And the work that I fell in love at first sight and for which my awe is still growing, was Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), which is supposedly Rembrandt's full-scale study for an etching. Again, Ecce Home is also based on a scene from Bible, where Christ is presented to the public before his crucifixion. I couldn’t have enough of the painting even after gazing at it for about 20-25 minutes from different angles.

The striking difference between the others and Rembrandt is the amazingly sensible use of 1. Lighting 2. Space/composition 3. Subtle harmony of colors. You can see that in The Woman Taken in Adultery, A Woman bathing in a stream, Anna and the Blind Hobbit and The Lamentation over the Dead Christ.

One of the few things I wanted to do in life was to see some Van Gogh masterpieces for real. AND I HAVE DONE THAT! It was so terribly unfortunate that The National Gallery didn’t have all the pieces that I wanted to see. But, anyway... Gosh! I had goose bumps just entering hall 45 which had the Van Goghs! Among them, there were a few of his famous works – Van Gogh’s chair, Sunflowers and A wheat field, with Cypresses. It was terribly sad that I couldn’t see Cafe on Terrace or Wheatfield with crows. To me, Van Gogh is The Artist. Somehow I seem to have irretrievably fallen in love with his works - particularly because of the way he uses his brush strokes to create a sense of flow/life into his paintings like Wheatfield with crows or A wheat field with cypresses.

So what is that art does other than literally add colors to the bland walls of our houses? And given that so much subjectivity goes into creation of art, in the first place, and that we all tend to see ‘the truth’ through our colored lenses, appreciating art is, not surprisingly, even more subjective.

So, how does one say one artist is better than the other? I know I am not equipped enough to answer that. But when I just try to understand why I love one painting over another, it appears to be largely dependent on how much the viewer understands or rather identifies with the work, which I think is a better word to use here, given that almost all artists, genuine or otherwise, have always been asked “So, what do you intend to communicate in this painting?” by stupid viewers, most often in an effort just to “intelligently” tackle the artist and make him uncomfortable instead of a real wish to understand. All in the name of “understanding art”! As if the artist’s answer to their “intelligent” question would make their understanding of the painting any better.

To me, it is all about your experience. What you experience when you happen to see the work. It may appear to be too simple or plain stupid to say this. But, most often, in our efforts to “understand”, we miss the real experience. For me, art is a key. A key that opens the doors to your own experience. It is all about increasing your sensitivity or awareness. And all this might make it sound too complex, but, it is not.


Couldn't think of a better title than what it is now. Even Nietzsche named his autobiography- Ecce Homo! Btw, the zoom function in the National Gallery website links that you would find in this post is pretty good to have a close look at the paintings...


priya said...


Thanks for sharing coz I will be visiting soon...

sk said...

Most welcome Priya! Hope you have a great time visiting there!

Preetha said...

makes on want to be "intellectual" enough to appreciate art too!

sk said...

hahaha you don't have to be "intellectual" to do that... in fact, i m afraid that if you are "intellectual", you would start imposing "yourself" and end up disappointing yourself. It is more about the experience, and the rest- the reason(s) for your liking it, is made up after that.