What would make this a perfect day?
Accomplishing tasks... creative work... friendship... earnings... life changing event... humor... acclaim?
Why did I once seek a stage - draw attention to myself? Could be something musicians do; we love to love and that’s how we know to do it.
‘When you see a Gauguin,’ writes Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, ‘you think, This man is living in a dream world. When you see a Van Gogh, you think, This dream world is living in a man.’
Artists are supposed to be our designated crazies.
A younger man approved my then long hair, telling me he wished women wouldn’t cut their hair the minute they reached a certain age.
Critics have dismissed Paul Gauguin as an artist who could not draw well, and knew it, who therefore turned to a more primitive style of expression. Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin was the never published companion catalogue to Gauguin’s French exhibition of 60 paintings and block prints completed in Tahiti. The public of Gauguin’s day judged his work harshly, the same work that later left Pablo Picasso in Gauguin’s thrall and fetches millions in today’s market.
These strains of a master’s tortured past were the stuff of two mini-lectures last night in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Ingalls Library. As I listened, I remembered Stephen Colbert pointedly asking Tom Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum of Art what makes art “art.” Who decides what’s worthy? Campbell explained that trained experts determine the authenticity and significance of older works, but he had no words for what makes art good, or bad.
Last night, surrounded by a tacto-visual repast the librarians had laid out for us - clippings, postcards, prints and the like - we heard muffled cheers erupting from adjoining offices. Who knew, the CMA staff watches Wednesday night football?
Our hosts explained later that the museum had just learned of a much hoped for acquisition for its collection. “What is it?” we asked. “Can’t tell you,” they answered, beamingly mysterious. We’d have to wait, like everyone else, for the morning paper.
My mother would have loved this story. Then again, she most likely listened in, her beneficent ghost haunting us calmly in that still space. Jane Sylvia Hewes Weber was painter, librarian and mother. She plied shelves at home with art books and dragged her kids and grandkids to museums, including this very Cleveland museum. Thanks to the librarians and Gauguin’s fragrant works, I now know where to find my mother when I miss her too much to ponder. She is there, on the walls, in the spaces of art she found worthy even as she found her own efforts wanting. Undaunted as the wild Gauguin, she painted on canvas and upon her progeny’s lives with a certain brave innocence. She let us be seers and seekers; she bade us be air.
Her ghost, with a nod to Monsieur Gauguin, inspired these lyrics once:
Watercolor on my shoulder. Watercolor in my hair.
Watercolor on the border, water in the air.
Promise me to be the water. Promise me to be the air.
Susan Weber, Air