If I were to be honest, I'd tell you that I don't much care for "modern" art. I can appreciate it, it's provocative transgression, the way modern artists subvert medium and expectation to evoke emotion. But "modern" pieces don't elicit much from me, not the way that realism does. My taste in art runs quite opposite than my taste in fiction; when I read I desire grand space operas, but when I go to museums I desire pieces anchored firmly in this world.
I was introduced to the Wyeth family of artists my sophomore year in high school, when I had to do an oral analysis of "The Green Knight Preparing to Battle Sir Beaumains", an illustration done by N.C Wyeth in Thomas Malory's "The Boy's King Arthur." N.C, was skilled at the subtle conveyance of what I interpreted to be melancholy and silence, a skill that he managed to pass on to his son Andrew. I like the work of N.C, but Andrew speaks to me on a much deeper level. His beautiful work with his muse Helga makes me proud to have a rounded woman's body; his haunting pieces of winter amongst wooden buildings and dying field grass quiet my soul and make me listen for racing wind.
But today, I remembered this picture, called "Master Bedroom":
The beauty of art is that much of the meaning of a piece comes from the experience of the one who sees it. Till today, I had always seen this picture to be one of comfort and tranquility. I had imagined it was a cool fall day, and that the faithful hound in question was merely napping before the master returned. But today? Today, it occurs to me that perhaps the master will not be returning.
My grandmother died this morning. She had a catastrophic stroke on Saturday the 24th, and died this morning about 4am. She would have been 84 this month, had been married to my grandfather for 63 years, and today she died. Now, all I can see in this picture is a dog waiting for their master to return, a master who will not return. What is happening in the world beyond that window frame? Is it the family gathered around a tombstone? Or has time passed so that tumbled leaves dance across chiseled letters that read "Beloved Friend"? Does the dog yet know its loss or does it knowingly return to the place of the one he loved to draw comfort from memory?
The answer, of course, is that the painting is all of that and none of that; it is what I need it to be, it evokes the grief I need to express. This is the power of art, that it is all at once mirror, opponent, chaplain, and critic. Wyeth did not paint for me, but his creation lives beyond its original setting, stretching in purpose for each of its viewers. In this sense, art is transcendent (even if it’s not by Gignoux). Wyeth’s art helps me to run backwards in my memory and forwards into my future and to linger in my present, to contemplate all the cold Novembers which have hurt me as well as given me rest.
Soon I will travel to my grandmother’s funeral, to stand with family and friends as we sing and cry and remember the woman we loved. We will wonder together how to continue in a world where she is absent. Then I will return home, and wrap the quilt my grandma made for me around my body; I will wrap it around me and sleep while fall winds knock against my windows. Because sometimes, life imitates art.