Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking at Art

When you walk in my front door there's a central wall a few feet ahead, on the far side of my dining room, that keeps talking to me. I'm the first wall people see when they step inside your house, it says. Decorate me. Make me my own. Give me a pretty face that will welcome our visitors. 

My friend Alison has a beautiful painting of a path meandering into the woods that is the focal point of her living room. The moment she saw it she said, Yep, that's the one, and it's perfect for her. A painting like that carries a lot of responsibility. It dictates the color, feeling, and overall mood of the room, which in turn helps visitors to know how to feel. You're at Alison's house now, the painting seems to say.

I'm looking for a painting or a print that says, You're at Lauren's house now. And let me tell you, it's tricky business. The other night I didn't feel like going to sleep, but my eyes were too tired to read. You know those nights when you have every reason to call it a day, yet you stubbornly stare at the wall? Sometimes it's too much effort to go to bed. So, I was lying there thinking about the lonely wall downstairs by my front door when I leaned over to grab Phaidon's The Art Book off my nightstand.

The Art Book

A writing instructor once told me that it's important for writers to look at art. It was a casual suggestion, but it stuck with me, like when someone points out you're slouching and afterward you constantly make the effort to stand up straight. A few days later I remember meandering slowly through my dad's home, which is filled with interesting and eccentric artwork, for the express purpose of looking. I looked harder. I started paying better attention. Looking at art might not change a person, but it makes you feel more awake, like you're using your eyes on purpose. I think the sensation is much like holding a newborn, or looking at a beautiful person or a sunset and you suddenly remember what being alive feels like. I guess that's what artwork does; it reminds us we're alive.

So, the next time you have some listless free time, maybe when you're lying in bed trying to decide if it's time to go to sleep, take a few minutes to really look. Look at the walls of your home. Look through your art books or at the very least browse through some online galleries. What kind of art is comforting to you? What colors or genres make you feel like your living room walls might start whispering any minute, offering suggestions? Although I think art is usually a private experience, here are a few images that mean something to me. Have fun looking:

Gwen John, A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris
Mary Cassatt La Toilette
PIerre-Auguste Renoir, The Reading Woman
Fra Angelico Annunciation
Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge

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