Friday, September 10, 2010

September 7th and 9th: Marion and John Franklin

Marion Franklin a retired schoolteacher and cook extraordinaire, and John Franklin my former theology professor and the head of Imago: a Christian Art Organization came with me for two wonderful writing sessions. Their work is below, as well as an Introduction By John. The photo credit goes to Marion.

John's Introduction
It was a great pleasure for Marion and me to spend some time with our friend Caitlin while in New York. We are enthusiastic about her writing project “A Month at the Met”. On the two days that we were together with Caitlin at the Met – our inclination was to look to the images there for inspiration. We offer here some thoughts written and remembered from those special moments at the Met.

However you look at it, the back has an extraordinary psychological power, a power that can be wonderful or disquieting or some combination of the two.

Jed Pearl - Antoine's Alphabet - pg. 21

Marion Franklin -

Tuesday, September 7th

Visiting the Met is for me like a voyage through time –from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and China of distant past to Medieval Europe, seventeenth century Holland and nineteenth century France. The artefacts provide a glimpse into life in these times past. Wealthy and poor, royalty and worker, aristocracy and bourgeoisie – we are able to discover a little and enter a time not our own. The works I see at the Met inspire within me admiration for the craftsmanship and artistry of the masons, potters, sculptors and painters through millennia. Choose any room and you can (if you will) be transported for a moment or an hour to another place and another time – each in its own way enriching you experience and understanding of the human condition.

Thursday, September 9th

After visiting the Met on Tuesday we were browsing in Barnes and Noble (in the art section) and happened on a book titled Antoine’s Alphabet. Had it been left to me I would never have seen it – but John who is somewhat taller than me saw it on a top shelf. It is a slim volume of short essays (26 + of them) all on the work of Watteau. Watteau has been a favourite artist since I saw a reproduction of his work in the first art history book I owned. When I go to the Met I always visit Mezzetin – it is like visiting an old friend. The surface beauty of the painting is in sharp contrast to the intense longing on the clown’s face. I have never been able to figure out why I am drawn to this painting. I am hoping to find some new insight from this book by Jed Pearl. Perhaps he will say what I can’t express myself. Here is an example:

“The mysterious young man, painted by Jean –Antoine Watteau, a splendidly absurd mechanism dedicated to the idea of human feeling. The touch of Watteau’s brush, the power of his conception, here .... a mingling of velvetiness and steeliness that constitutes one of the miracles of art. I cannot get enough of the easy and yet persuasive power of this work... “ (Jed Pearl, Antoine’s Alphabet, p 4)

John Franklin

On our Tuesday visit to the Met I suggested some time be spent with the work of seventeenth century Dutch art. The works of this period were among the first to generate my interest in visual art. Though my interest is now very diverse – I never tire of returning to these gentle inspiring paintings. I didn’t know what to expect when participating with Caitlin on this creative project – and my responses I could not have predicted.

Tuesday September 7th

Entering another time, another place makes possible – a fresh look at the world around me. I am newly aware of this possibility through time spent before paintings, earnest in detail and deeply respectful of their subject matter. I have two Dutch friends from the 17th century whose creative gifts well exercised have brought me pleasure to the eye and food for the soul over many years – Rembrandt and Vermeer. On this visit to the Met I am once again able to enter their world and engage in silent dialogue with them.

Vermeer’s depiction of the tranquility of simple domestic figures alerts me to the cacophony of contemporary culture and generates a longing for the nurturing power of the silences. Rembrandt’s work seems laden with thoughtfulness – quiet reflection, perhaps too serious – and yet in a world where action seems to negate thought – or at least replace it, I am reminded of the noble gift of reflection, that ability to stand back and consider, the eagerness to know more deeply, a moment devoted to bringing a bit of order to one’s fragmented world.

I sit before a work by that most talented of painters – Rembrandt. It’s a painting of Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer. While writing I am distracted as I look down at the floor with footwear and feet of a seemly infinite variety passing by – I look up and am settled by this engaging work with its two figures – linking philosophical thought (Aristotle) with poetic imagination (Homer) – one guided more by logic – the other more by story, both walking a path in the interest of truth.

What draws me to these painters is their respect for what is human and for ordinary life – no idealization, no pretence but a heartfelt engagement with the world as they knew it.

Thursday September 9th

Strange how a still, voiceless object can communicate with such power and eloquence. Does the ubiquitous din of our contemporary society drown out the voices of silence? Statue and canvass – brush and chisel - have served to bridge time – bring past to present and present to past – a conversation that seems too rare.

Some moments with Watteau’s Mezzetin and I ask – Is the harlequin – that comic figure – bearing the weight of a loss or at least an absence? His trance – like expression finds some resolve in the passionate intensity of his hands, instruments active in creating sound on his lute – perhaps music of lament, perhaps of hope, perhaps of love.

Strange too how an artisan’s hand – two centuries gone has crafted an images that breathes life at this later time, generates interest, creates conversation and opens the way for a moment of joy, of sadness, of compassion or curiosity and nurtures the human spirit two centuries on.

Our current penchant for the immediate and the cavalier assumption that ‘now’ out values ‘then’ and ‘then’ merits not our time or interest is a falsehood all too common. Cultural memory now easily lost is not easily regained. Such loss breeds isolation and a directionless fog, identity masked and uncertain, homelessness.

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