“Stand back. Take in the whole picture. A bit further...”
“Don’t worry about the caption; the title, the date, the artist, just soak in the image. Create a critical distance to allow the surface of the painting to dissolve. Have a seat, spend some time with the painting.”
As sound as this advice may be, it misses something deep and meaningful inside a canvas. Within every painting are scores of smaller, carefully constructed paintings to explore. The artist sees these ‘interior paintings’ in the process of painting; as such they represent a critically important view of artwork; the painter’s perspective. Ironically, museums bar us from approaching paintings as close as the artist stood when creating them.
Simulating the point of view of the painter is to become so deeply involved in artwork, especially modern artwork, as to be entirely within the picture. Like sitting up close in a movie theater, one’s field of vision is filled with the painting allowing the work to reveal its own making in ways never clear from a “critical distance”. This view is not just about the intimate construction of a painting, though it is certainly a stroke by stroke deconstruction of art. When you become intimate with a painting’s assembly you can almost reverse engineer it. The close study of a larger work reveals it’s timing, layering, composition and texture. Swallowing the whole canvas at once becomes simply overwhelming.
These pictures of pictures, paintings within paintings, were taken at MoMA while revisiting the permanent collection. Some pictures could only be from one work of art, but others conceal their identity and their artist even though they reveal the most intimate work of the painter. Normally sedate museum guards get nervous when visitors approach a painting as close as the artist did. But how close is too close? What is a painting’s ‘secure perimeter’? And which paintings are worth taking a bullet for? Paintings may be like politicians, whose importance is reflected in the protective shield surrounding them. It’s one thing to shake your councilwoman’s hand, quite another to meet your senator, and a once-in-a-lifetime event to shake a president’s hand.
So, move in, and see what the artist saw..