It was October. The leaves were red, orange, and gold here in Michigan.
I had handed out midterms on Friday and they started to drift in -- a number of my more diligent students finished and turned in the exam the very next day. But as we headed into the holiday season, I knew that time was going to be more precious than ever. Grading forty-three midterms, followed by grading two separate writing assignments in November and a third quiz-based assignment in December, followed by the final exam and submitting course grades lay ahead of me. Then there was International Animation Day, the Grand Rapids Comicon, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and finally, my birthday on New Year's Eve.
I had to face the very real fact that I wouldn't get to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts until January. Not being able to visit an art museum isn't a Greek tragedy in the grand scheme of life. But considering how much I work during the week, I do enjoy getting away from it all for an afternoon of solitude, a little exercise, and some artistic inspiration. Recharges the internal batteries and all that.
So, with the weekend open, a friend and I drove down to Detroit for a good lunch and an afternoon of cultural enrichment. After we finished up at the DIA Café, Jon and I went our separate ways. He wanted to visit the DIA's library and do some research. I wanted to drift and look at some familiar pieces of art--see what was still there and what had been changed since my last visit. I was not disappointed.
Hanuman, early 1900's
The first stop was the "hall of puppetry". The exhibit had been swapped out since my last visit. Some of the puppets I had seen before, but this time there was an interesting note in one of the placards dealing with the puppeteer making a puppet transition from one size to another during the performance and it explained a little technique. When I think about how Lotte Reiniger made transitions in direction or movement on the z-plane, how the Indian puppeteers handled the same issue was very thought provoking. Worth some further research... and testing... and I wondered how I could integrate that information into my lecture on the history of puppets... or the assignment on Lotte Reiniger.
Painting from an Album of Landscapes
after Old Masters, 1619
Then it was off to the "hall of Chinese paintings". There's just something
about observing the complexity of the simple designs seen in both the layout and the brush
strokes combined with a skillful use of the 'white of the paper' that I find so
appealing. I once heard that during Mao's "Cultural Revolution" the communists
tried to destroy China's history. How many priceless works of art and
literature that represent the great history of the Chinese people are gone
forever? Course, for that matter, how many were destroyed during World War II?
Or when Rome fell... or Constantinople...?
Fruit Piece, 1849
Robert Seldon Duncanson
Having no plan in particular, nor any special exhibits to visit, I walked upstairs and revisited some artwork that I'd seen many times before. This time though, feeling no rush to be anywhere or do anything, I sat there and tried to observe the paintings with new eyes and from different angles. My patience was rewarded as I noticed details in the paint/brushstrokes on the pineapple in Duncanson's "Fruit Piece", details meant to simulate light and shadow and reveal texture. Then there were the speckles on the strawberries, obviously meant to represent seeds--or the individual painted drupelets that made up the raspberries. So many small details that make up a greater whole.
The Veiled Lady, 1872
Giovanni Maria Benzoni
Before I left the museum proper, I had to take some more photographs of the 'Veiled Lady'. Still breathtaking... not just the ability to make marble look transparent, but also the folds in the fabric and the detail on the woman's clothing.
It really makes me wonder how long it took Giovanni Benzoni to learn and master the skills necessary to create such a statue.
Mont Sainte-Victoire, ~1904-6
Feeling a little tired by this point, I had a light dessert at the Kresge Court and did some reading. I've been jotting down notes about a fantasy setting that's been on my mind for the better part of five years--writing from the first-person perspective like Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, as if I was writing a travelogue of my experiences while I wander through a strange and wondrous land. I honestly don't think that it's something that I'd ever publish. It's more the act of creation and having something special for me to read and reread that I'm enjoying. A roommate of mine once wrote several novels in the time we lived together. They were all set in the universe of a game we played and from the perspective of the main character and the mercenary unit that my friend played. One day I asked him if he was ever going to submit them for publication, after all, he had been a playtester for the game, he knew the right people to talk to. But he said 'no'. Writing these stories was something that he did for himself. I didn't understand it then, but all these years later, I think I get it now. Sometimes the story is so personal that you want to keep it all to yourself rather than put it out there, be it published as official canon or as fan fiction. Jeff was right: sometimes it's all about 'creating art just for the sake of creating art'.
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