In college, I improved my appreciation of art through three art classes and a music history course (in addition to all of the performance groups in which I played). I found I appreciated Fra Angelico, Duccio, Cimabue, Giotto, Ghirlandaio, Titian, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Albrecht Durer, and Hieronymus Bosch, among other styles and other periods. Musically, I discovered Hildegard von Bingen, Hector Berlioz, and fell more in love with many others. I learned to appreciate different techniques and beauty of the works, but to this day, I can think of only four times where I was viscerally moved.
The first piece of work that provided me with that sharp amazement is the Barberini Faun. I’ve never seen it in person, but in art class I gasped because the satyr’s face shows such emotion that I could imagine this statue being frozen in a moment of time. The faun could be in a period of troubled sleep, dreaming sensual thoughts or possibly a little troubled. Depending on the picture, he could be tossing his head back while reclining or resting on his invisible pillow. The open position invites or dares you to look until you’ve answered all your questions, if you can answer them. Other pieces may be considered more important, but in technique this artist was a true master.
I also felt this emotional completeness from a work of art when I first viewed J.M.W. Turner’s “The Slave Ship” or “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on.” I had not noticed/recalled Turner prior to my visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and my observation noticed the action of the storm in the sky melding with the water. The sky amazed me with its energy, violence, and colors. I sought the title and artist of this piece as I was truly amazed, only to discover the horrific details of the picture I had missed. How could such a beautiful and powerful painting depict such human depravity? My discomfort at this careless disregard for life struggled with the top two-thirds of the scene. Later I moved to Philadelphia to discover Turner’s “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons” and again appreciated his ability to capture the essence of fire moving against the sky. While this time the painting does not show humanity at its worst, it still shows a tragedy. In viewing these pictures and later others, I have decided Turner is one of the great artists whose works foretold of trends in painting (another would be Hieronymus Bosch, whose work is extremely surrealistic at times, ala Dali). I also have accepted my appreciation of the “violence” of nature, as I have always loved watching waves crash onto the shore.
This third piece did not cause me to gasp or stare in shock, but rather I burst into laughter and henceforth drug everyone I knew to view this piece here in the Philadelphia area. The statue is called “Boy with a Rooster” by Adriano Cecioni. What makes this bronze worthy of discussion here is the fact that the expressions of the boy and bird are depicted so perfectly. Also, when was the last time you ever had to laugh at something in an art museum (other than at what someone said)? Like the Barberini Faun you easily can envision these two carrying on in their distress in front of you. Perhaps this facet of everyday life (the fact that the child is creating mischief that has comically backfired) makes this so accessible. However, I love it just for the perfection of expression.
I admit I find music easier to appreciate emotionally as compared to art; I best remember the Salem Chamber Orchestra performing Martin Behnke’s “Chants.: This final example is probably not the only time I have transcended myself in my listening pleasure, but it is one of the few times I recognized my absorption and did not encourage myself into this state of being. Part of this enjoyment stems from the fact that Dr. Behnke was my college band director, and otherwise I enjoyed it because the piece was not extremely discordant in nature. I admit, I no longer recall exact moments in time, however I recall the moment I landed back on earth, so to speak. Some jerk did not set his or her phone to vibrate or off, and the ringing infuriated me. Not typically a hot head, if a vigilante group had wanted to persecute this person I would have willingly joined them, my attention was so entrenched in the music’s perfection. From what I understand, the piece was technically challenging to perform, which allows my appreciation to grow due to my recognizing how a difficult piece can force a performer to “cheat”, for lack of a better word.