Posted tagged ‘Nelson-Atkins’

how I see my stories (most of the time)

December 30, 2019

The painting you see above is titled (entitled?) Interior with a Book and it was completed in 1959 by Richard Diebenkorn. It hangs in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City, and the first time I saw it I recognized something about it.

This is pretty much how I see my stories. No, not as works of art. Rather, as what my first impression was when I originally saw this painting: not quite in focus. It’s all there, but in the case of my stories, it needs tightening. It needs refinement. It needs to be better focused.

Even when I finish a story, and I allow myself to say it is “finished,” I always feel like it could be better, that it needs more attention to detail or something. That it isn’t really, really finished when it’s finished, but it’s beyond my ability to see what’s not right or to know what do to about it.

My stories leave my hands as not-fully-formed things. That’s exactly what I felt when I saw this painting the first time, and every time I visit the museum, I stand before this painting for a while, puzzling to no avail what I’m missing in my own efforts.

I know I’m right (I just have to prove it)

February 18, 2019

This is detail from the painting A Lazy Fisherman by John Gadsby Chapman. It was painted in 1844 and currently hangs in the Nelson Atkins Museum here in Kansas City. One critic at the time described this as “laziness personified” though Chapman’s goal was more to depict a historical sense, a past and pastime that was already on its way out.

Directly across the gallery, not thirty feet away, is a painting that contains this detail:

This is from the painting Fishing on the Mississippi by George Caleb Bingham, and it was painted in 1851, just seven years after the Chapman. Bingham made a name for himself by depicting western politics and river life, as well as portraits of many prominent Missourians of his day.

I’ve seen these two paintings scores of times, but it was only recently that I saw something peculiar about them. In both paintings, the fisherman (or boy) has a hole in the right shoulder of his shirt. Mere coincidence?

Look again, though, and you’ll see a similar pose, a similar hat, a similar moon face, similar ear lobes, and even a similar almost melancholy look. More than coincidence, I think.

I suspect that Bingham either knew Chapman or knew this work in particular and deliberately portrayed the same fisherman now older (but with the same shirt, only more yellowed and tattered). I suspect that Bingham intended his fisherman to be the boy grown up. (Granted, seven years doesn’t account for the older man’s apparent age difference, but still!)

A friend of mine is a docent at the museum, and though he doesn’t know the specifics of these two paintings, he says that works are often hung so that they have “conversations” between them. In this case, you can look at one and literally turn around and look at the other.

So now I feel a compulsion to confirm that Bingham had done what I think he did. I’m no art scholar, but the Museum does have an impressive library (which I’ve used in the past), and I’ll bet I could find what I’m looking for there.

Everyone needs a hobby, right?

artsy anachronism

February 17, 2016

St. Jerome

Behold Saint Jerome. This painting, by Hendrick Bloemaert, was created in 1630 and hangs on the wall in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. I visit this gallery a lot. Saint Jerome was born around the year 347 and died in 420. A long time ago, in other words. Among his many attributed qualities, he was considered a scholar and is asserted to be the one who translated the Bible into Latin. That’s all dandy, but what interests me about this painting is that a 5th Century man is depicted wearing glasses.

What we today would recognize as glasses were invented in Italy in around 1286. (It’s true! Just ask Wikipedia.) The magnifying power of lenses of any kind was not appreciated until the 11th Century. And so the glasses on old Saint Jerome are an anachronism. It turns out that anachronistic glasses in art is a thing.

One scholar told me that the use of glasses in this painting was not intended to be historically accurate (Bloemaert undoubtedly knew of this “error”), of course, but to express the scholarly nature of the subject himself.

So when I bring friends to the art museum, I generally steer them toward this gallery and this painting, and a pleasant little conversation ensues.

Then we go have a snack in what must be the finest setting for a restaurant in all of the city:

Rozelle Court

Join me next time.

The great beyond

December 11, 2008

In my home town we have a wonderful art museum called the Nelson-Atkins. It’s a venerable building, graciously styled, full of marble and other grand appointments that aren’t used any longer.

The museum has recently undergone an expansion that is quite modern and has received rave reviews from around the world. While they were busy expanding the museum, the curators also renovated parts of the original building.

The center hall of the original museum, known as Kirkwood Hall, was in need of some love. At the very top of its three-story space are old-style skylights that were cracked and filthy. Because repairing those and the surrounding water-damaged ceiling would require scaffolding and a lot of falling debris, the renovators built a sort of tunnel to get patrons through the hall while the work was being done.

So instead of a soaring, three-story space full of gleaming marble and light, we had to scuttle through a confined, monochrome hallway with low ceilings and bad lighting.

When I would pass through that hallway, I had palpable sense of the greater space beyond the closing white walls around me. I could only see what was immediately before me, but I could feel that something greater was beyond.

And that, my friends, brings me to my point of this post. I often get that same feeling when I’m reading good fiction. I sense that there is more meaning and nuance beyond the obvious story told in the words, but too often I can never get beyond the narrow hallway of my own imagination.

Getting into this great beyond is one of the reasons I like being in book discussion groups. I nearly always leave the discussion seeing that I missed an entirely different story in the book I read, but I’m also grateful to have found what it was I missed.

I know that many people read for the wealth of the plot. That’s fine. There is plenty of fine fiction out there to satisfy them. As I’ve matured, though, I find that such fiction is no longer satisfying to me. I want something meatier, and when I get that sense of a great beyond, I feel like I’m at least trying to read something that will satisfy me.