In the Eye of the Beholder…

Nude Under a Pine Tree, Pablo Picasso

“Many things that come into the world are not looked into. The individual says, ‘My crowd doesn’t run that way.’ I say, don’t run with crowds.”
― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

I have stood before Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam mesmerized by the immensity of the painting (12’ by 14’) and by the striding almost life-sized figures in black and white.

I have stood in front of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg not knowing what an impact it would have on my spirituality at seminary four decades later.

I contemplated Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre Museum wondering why this was such a famous painting.

I have stood before da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan imagining for myself what Jesus’ last meal with his disciples might have looked like.

Twice I have stood below Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City looking upward trying to imagine how Charlton Heston created such a wonder – in agony and in ecstasy.

In the late-1980’s when I was a banker in downtown Chicago I would take advantage of admission-free Thursdays at The Art Institute of Chicago and pay a lunchtime visit. I could walk out the front entrance to my place of work at the corner of Adams Street and Wacker Drive, pick up a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese along the eight-block walk down Adams and enter straight into the front entrance of the AIC. As my lunch hour was limited to sixty-ish minutes I did not have the luxury to take on the museum stroll for very long. Thankfully my favorite room was the room at the top of the first flight of stairs after coming in the front doors off of Michigan Avenue between the famous lions.

Yesterday, twenty-nine years after my last visit, I made that same entrance and climbed the same first flight of stairs delighted that my Impressionists were still located in the very same room.

My tastes have changed. Whereas on my Thursday lunchtime visits I could sit and easily pass the time noting the differences in palette between Monet’s Haystacks, yesterday I was moved by Chagall, Dove and Picasso, and was fairly indifferent to the work of my beloved Cezanne.

There is so much beauty in the world; not just in the world of art. It is humanly impossible, for this human in particular, to see ALL as beautiful all the time. And yet, Picasso’s Nude Under a Pine Tree is not an object of beauty until I turn a corner and go, “Wow!”

“Beauty is no material thing. Beauty cannot be copied. Beauty is the sensation of pleasure on the mind of the seer. No thing is beautiful. But all things await the sensitive and imaginative mind that may be aroused to pleasurable emotion at the sight of them. This is beauty.”
― Robert Henri, The Art Spirit