Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Things like blue curtains

The Blue Curtain by Henry Matisse
When it comes to visual art, I'm afraid I'll have to resort to the old maxim: beauty is, very definitely, in the eye of the beholder. Matisse's The Blue Curtain hangs proudly in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. I hate to have to admit my barbarian aesthetics, but it might just as well be under a magnet sticking to the door of my refrigerator, a grandchild's first-grade artwork.

What do I know? Not much.

But a review of a Matisse exhibition in Boston ("Matisse in the Studio" at The Museum of Fine Arts) published on-line, I thought especially fascinating. What Claire Massud argues in "Matisse: the Joy of Things," is that in his lifetime, Matisse discovered nothing less than sheer delight in things, in stuff, in immediate images all around. . .say, in a blue curtain. "They delighted, inspired, or confounded him," Massud says, "in their humble ordinariness and in all that they evoked."

That kind of recognition may be simply another manifestation of age. Old people--I'm just about 70--start to look back more graciously than they look forward. And when they (we) do, we begin to treasure more fully what is there--and more specifically what's made it through the years. 

What's right behind me now and every morning I sit here is a collection of things, stuff, even junk, that isn't junk. I'm not a visual artist, so I don't paint them--a buffalo skull, a little African woodcarving, an ancient photo of a burned-out Oostburg, Wisconsin, circa 1880 or so. But I do write, and there's a story for everything back there, which is why, I suppose, they're still there.

We just returned from a quick trip out to a few reservations and included a visit to cemeteries, places where simply reading inscriptions can make you wiser than you were. No one was out there but us, but you're never really all alone in a graveyard.

But Ms. Massoud isn't necessarily talking about artifacts, or the remembrances of things past. What she's arguing is that Matisse somehow painted things as mundane as a blue curtain because one day he looked at it in a way he never had before and simply found it beautiful. Hence The Blue Curtain in the Museum of Modern Art. 

I sometimes wonder if my own religious upbringing--not just my childhood either, but the culture of evangelical Christianity into which I was born and where I lived for just about all of my life--I sometimes wonder if its particularly other-worldly spirituality didn't somehow eclipse the things of this world (that very phrase, "the things of this world," still carries hellish implications). I sometimes wonder whether Matisse's love for blue curtains, for pitchers and vases and his son's piano lessons--I sometimes wonder if keeping one's eyes on Jesus didn't keep me somehow from loving the world for which God gave his son. 

Is that possible? 

I don't think any fine art reproduction of The Blue Curtain will ever hang in our living room, and I'm probably far too much a Calvinist to put up any of his famous nudes. But I like what Claire Massoud suggests about Henri Matisse.
"Matisse’s passion for color, for light, for pattern, for flowers and the female figure; and his conviction—borne out in almost every one of his paintings and sculptures, whether a sublime nude woman’s torso small enough fit in the palm of your hand or an imposing complex oil painting such as Interior with Egyptian Curtain (1948)—that what endures is certainly matter: the flesh, the fruit, the flowers, the folds of fabric."

Once upon a time, something about that I missed. But then, for whatever reason, something of that I think I'm learning too--and loving.

"This world is not my home--I'm just a passin' through" is somehow true; but that doesn't mean we can't "just plain love" a blue curtain.