The Last Picture Show

Works of art lie. Pictures of works of art deceive.

Who has not seen a picture of the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel? You see it as a majestic, inspired act of creation, as awe-inspiring as a work of art could be. When I saw it in the Sistine Chapel, it was so far up I almost needed binoculars to see it, virtually vanishing in the surrounding incredible works of art.

The picture deceives you.

Picasso’s Demoiselles of Avignon was the opposite. The picture hides an overwhelming a work of art. Entering the room at the Museum of Modern Art, you see it immediately. It overshadows all the other works around it, even though you see it only on a far wall. Approaching, it is a huge canvas, almost 8 feet on each side. Shock and awe, puzzlement and inquiry, slam you in the gut.

The picture deceives you.

Somewhere in the middle was my experience of Bernini’s St. Theresa. Walking a long distance, up a hill in the hot Rome sun I came to a small church. Based on the pictures I had seen I had expected a sparkling, transcendent work of art. The light was not right, and I could not get close enough to the statue. It was more impressive than the photograph, but the photograph had an intimacy that I was not able to achieve with work as I could with the Demoiselles. Nonetheless, through the magic that only Bernini could perform, the equivalence of religious and sexual ecstasy that St. Theresa spoke of came to life.

The picture deceives you.

A picture can motivate you to see a great work. Sometimes, it is true, external circumstances dictate that a picture is all we can have.

How many art historians and critics based their writings on black and white reproductions of art they never saw? Photographs distort color, texture, size, impression, majesty, and contrast with other works. Perhaps the photograph can covey some of the original’s authenticity, originality, thoroughness, or power.

At least, this deception is done in the name of art.

Totally disgusting are tourists who instead of looking at a work of art take pictures of it, much as they would at some sightseeing attraction. Who knows if they even look at the pictures later? Is the camera a substitute for their own experience?

Descending lower into hell are the tourists who pose in front of a work of art to have their picture taken. Is this a trophy photograph similar to a pose with a huge fish caught or an animal hunted? Maybe they post them on Pinterest or Instagram or whatever is the latest sharing mechanism.

Fortunately I have not yet seen a selfie in front of a work of art.

Impress into your memory and all your senses a work of art. Let them be available to you whenever you see or hear a work of art, or experience a life moment.

Experience art.

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