#563: National Gallery of Art

06 Jan

“Yes, No, Maybe” is the title of an exhibition at the museum that shows the printmaking process through multiple versions–drafts, or, to use the technical term, “working proofs”–of a work of art.  At least 3, and in most cases, up to 5 or 7, earlier versions of a print are shown next to the final one, begging the question of the viewer (or at least of this viewer), “Is the final one really that much better for having gone through this creative process?”

I assume the artists must have thought so, or else, why would they spend so much time on pieces that would never be shown?  It makes sense, of course.  In most other kinds of art, the artist doesn’t just suddenly produce a finished product.  Writers create drafts.  Musicians revise their scores.  Photographers edit.  I assume it provokes some people to think along the lines of, “Oh, even famous artists don’t succeed with their vision on the first try,” or, “No wonder this is so amazing–the artist spent years tweaking the same thing over and over.”

For me, the peek behind the scenes was a little unwelcome.

I just want to enjoy the beauty in front of me and imagine it did spontaneously erupt from inside the artist like a volcano’s magma forcing itself to emerge.  Normally in museums we only see the lava, and I prefer it that way. Is it so I can comfort myself with thoughts along the lines of, “Oh, famous artists just have an inhuman talent?” and, “No wonder this is so amazing–the artist is magic”? Possibly.

Even so, seeing the effort and time and scrutiny that went into these prints didn’t distinguish the magic completely.  That would require a force greater than a quick glance behind a secret curtain.

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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in Art


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