Friday, April 14, 2006

Fine Art and Deep Concepts

This is my favourite painting in the National Gallery. ("Hope 1", by Gustav Klimt. The picture itself is a link to the Gallery, if you wish to check it out.) Every time I go, I find my way to the gallery in which this sits, and soak her up. It's not a pretty picture, exactly; it's not a nice picture, exactly, but there is so much about it I love. The luminescence of the woman, her expression of defiance, the immensity of the belly which defies the spectres behind her. I just love this painting. Thus I have a postcard of this painting on my fridge. It's been there for years, periodically replaced by a new, clean version, carefully posted high above the childrens' heads. This morning, Darcy noticed it. "Mary, why is that lady naked?" "Well, this is a picture of a painting. Sometimes painters like to paint people with no clothes on, because..." Hmmm... This is no cartoon print, nor a photograph of something familiar and straightforward. This painting is difficult, layers upon layers of complex adult concepts. How does one explain nudity as a symbol of vulnerability? How does one explain danger, defiance, threat, and the ascendancy of the human spirit? How does one explain "hope, the concept", never mind "Hope, the painting" to a three-year-old? I take the picture down and hand it to him, pulling him onto my lap. He holds it carefully in both hands, head curled down over the photograph. "Who are those bad guys?" "They sure look like bad guys, don't they?" "Yes. Mean bad guys." "Are they a little scarey, maybe?" "Yes, they are scarey. And they're standing too close to that lady." "You don't like them to be so close to that lady? Why not?" "Because they are bad guys. She isn't smiling. She doesn't like those bad guys to be so close to her. She is mad at them. And why is she so fat?" "Do you think she's fat? Why else might her belly be so big?" Darcy has a younger sister; this should be familiar ground to him. "Does she got a baby in there?" "Yes, she does. And is a baby a good thing, or a bad thing?" (With another child, this might be a risky thing to ask, but I'm sure of myself with Darcy.) "Good thing!" My confidence is vindicated. Darcy is happily clear on this one. "So that lady is doing a good thing, right? She's having a baby, and that's a good, happy thing." Darcy nods a decisive affirmation. I guess he's enjoying his little sister! "Sometimes when a painter paints a picture, he's trying to make you think of things. He's trying to paint ideas. He painted those bad guys and he painted that pregnant lady together, so that we could see that even when there are bad things happening, good things can happen, too." "She is happy about her baby. I think those bad guys won't get her baby." "How do you feel about that?" "That's good, that the bad guys won't get her baby. I like that." There are bad guys out there, there are even bad guys standing close, but they won't get the baby. Not bad. I think Darcy has come to his own understanding of "hope".


Blogger Peter said...

Wow, that is kinda deep for me. Anyway because I like what you write and I am new at this 'meme' thing I am tagging you. By the way, the concept of hope kind of chokes me up too.

4/14/2006 12:13:00 p.m.  
Blogger MsSisyphus said...

I pink puffy heart Darcy. (I even forgive him for the museum excursion now.)

4/14/2006 12:56:00 p.m.  
Blogger Kristen said...

Wow, I think Darcy explained that better than I would have. That was beautiful.

4/14/2006 01:05:00 p.m.  
Blogger Kelli in the Mirror said...

I see I need to get some fine art to discuss with my chickens. :) That's so very cool. And good for Darcy!

4/14/2006 01:19:00 p.m.  
Blogger Granny said...

You described him as loving. It fits.

Once again we are simultaneously commenting on each other's blogs.

4/14/2006 01:40:00 p.m.  
Blogger Haley said...

Every time you share a Darcy story I just want to run home and hug him. What a sweet, thoughtful little man. That was a lovely story. Who knows, maybe you've inspired him to become an art critic!

4/14/2006 04:30:00 p.m.  
Blogger Andi said...

I used to teach children's art classes at a museum. One advantage to that type of class is that you get to take the kids through the museum to help them understand the lessons. I would explain to any child who asked that most of the naked people that you see in paintings (at least until the modern era) are not real people. The artist is trying to paint an idea and has used a person to represent part of the idea. Whenever a child would point at a picture of a naked person, we'd then make a challenge out of finding the things in the painting that would help us to understand the idea that the artist was trying to paint. It's a great way to difuse the issue of nudity in art around children.

4/14/2006 05:16:00 p.m.  
Blogger McSwain said...

You know, sometimes the little ones in all their simplicity understand the big issues in all their complexity better than we "big ones" do.

4/14/2006 07:47:00 p.m.  
Blogger stefanierj said...

LOVE this story. Damn, if Arthur hadn't peed all over your floor, Darcy might be my new favorite.

4/14/2006 09:49:00 p.m.  
Blogger Queen Bee said...

Wow Mary, you are good on this one! :) I like the way you draw understanding from him in his own terms. :)

4/15/2006 01:17:00 a.m.  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Last time I was in my birthplace -- that being Ottawa -- it was on a flying visit to the Klimt exhibit. I do love our national gallery.

And, between you, me and the blogourhood.. I am thinking Hope as a REAL possibility for #2 should it prove to be another girl for us. Which is what I am hoping for this week and that is all Arthur's doing!

4/15/2006 01:17:00 a.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

Peter: I've done the meme and will post it later today (Saturday).

MsS: Darcy is a total darling. He's leaving at the end of June - dad is a teacher and stays home with the kids in the summer, and in the fall, Darcy starts SCHOOL!! So he's (sniff) leaving. I will miss, miss, miss the boy.

4/15/2006 09:25:00 a.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

Kristen: It's amazing what they can think through. Darcy's concept of hope is concrete, because he's a three-year-old, but it's a good one!

KEP: I remember reading a book, years ago, in which the author suggested that parents get art postcards and stick them to the walls at a height for a crawling baby, to expose them to the finer things at a young age. Me, I think it wouldn't be very long at all before those postcards had been exposed to the baby's digestive tract, but by three? By three they're so smart!!

Granny: I thought it was wonderful that he was concerned for the safety of the baby and the mother's feelings. Sweet guy.

Haley: The longer I know this boy, the more potential I think he has. So far, I he's athletic, verbal, sensitive, and a born leader. (Not bossy, but a leader.) Great kid.

Andi: For Darcy the nudity was not so much an "issue" as it was a "curiosity". Thankfully, all my parents are sensible folk when it comes to this sort of thing, and I don't need to worry about squeamishness coming from any of them!

Cheryl: The trick of it for an adult is getting it down to first principles. Children start there!

Stefanierj: Next time Arthur feels like peeing all over a floor, I'll send him to your house and keep Darcy then, okay??

QueenBee: Thanks. I was kind of proud of that, too. It helped that I had no idea how to proceed: letting him take the lead was easier for both of us!

mo-wo: Mmm... I like it. It's quaint, meaningful, simple, but not smarmy. She could end up being whatever she liked with a name like that.

4/15/2006 09:40:00 a.m.  
Blogger kittenpie said...

Mary, you are too awesome. What a perfect way to lead discussion and get to something that said a lot by saying a little. Will you move to Toronto on be pumpkinpie's auntie, please?!

4/15/2006 10:38:00 a.m.  
Blogger LoryKC said...

I love Darcy!

4/17/2006 11:33:00 p.m.  

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