Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Context isn't everything, but it is awesome

Putting things in context makes them so much more interesting. I think it's why I've always loved art history. Seeing a beautiful painting is, of course, enjoyable, but it's even more enjoyable to me if I understand the context in which it was created. I've discovered I feel the same way about TV shows, apparently.

Last fall, I read Tina Fey's book BOSSYPANTS. It was very funny and wise and I really enjoyed it. I hadn't watched 30 Rock. I'd blown past it a few times here and there, but it never kept my attention for long. I just started watching it from the beginning (thank you, Netflix!!!!!) and I'm loving it. It cracks me up, but the best episodes are the ones that I know about from the book. When one of the writers calls Liz that really bad name that men call women that rhymes with runt? You see Liz grappling with how to handle it in a funny way, but it's even more interesting because I know how Tina Fey grappled with it real life and enjoy it even more because I see how she made art out of her life.

Several years ago, my youngest (hereby known as Thing Two) complained about a field trip to a museum. "You go into a room and there's a picture of a lady and then there's a picture of a flower. You go into the next room and there's another lady and another flower. Booorrrrinnnng."

I explained to him that there were probably reasons that those particular flowers and particular ladies were meaningful and that if he just understood the context it would make it more interesting. He seemed doubtful. The next time that he and I were at a museum together, we stood in front of Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de Benci and I explained to him about Leonardo's unique use of figure and field, the atmospheric quality of the painting, the use of light and shadow, the softness of the lines and Leonardo's use of symbolism.

I asked him if that made it more interesting. He gave me one of those smiles that seemed to say that I might shut up if he agreed with him and he said yes.

I'm taking that as a win.

Have you ever had a TV show/movie/book/piece of art become more interesting to you once you understood its context? Or does it not matter to you?

6 comments:

Maureen McGowan said...

Totally! Especially with art like you say. I always read those little cards when they're there, and a few of my very best art gallery experiences involved either tours or really good audio guides. Sometimes those things can be boring, but when they're not, they're awesome!

There's a ceramic museum in Toronto. I love pottery, but the first time I went, only the porcelain part was open. I was so bummed. Tea cups? Those little cutesy statues? Really? But they had an audio tour narrated by the woman who collected everything in the museum with her husband and for every little thing, she talked about where they found it and some detail about it... And I learned a ton about the history of porcelain and italian theatre and tea in England and lots of unexpected things. Awesome day. Especially since it was so unexpected.

Stephanie Doyle said...


My biggest experience with that was in Amsterdamn at the Van Gogh musuem. Now I love any type of art museum in general and at the National Art Gallery in DC I saw I believe it was his Haystacks that were touring.

Well when you walk into a museum which is nothing but his work, from the beginning to the end it totally gives you a sense of context. How he elolved, where his head was, where his head... wasn't.

Absolutely by far the most amazing experience I had ever had... right up until I went to the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

Your son would probably think I'm a big dork - but I can't get enough of paintings of girls and flowers.

Maureen McGowan said...

The Musee D'Orsay was my first transcendant museum experience, Steph. I was still in my early 20's and just freaking blown away.

Another great and unexpected one was the Salvador Dali museum in St. Petersburg Florida, of all places. I was in Tampa on a 2 week course, and went on the weekend with low expectations... The tour guides were excellent. I did two tours back to back. Different guides each time and they talked about different paintings. I had no idea before that day that Dali did anything beyond melting clocks. I highly recommend that place if anyone ever goes to the Tampa/St. Petes area. Probably even worth the drive from Orlando.

Sinead M said...

Musee D'Orsay... I want to go there....

Stephanie Doyle said...

Next writers retreat... Paris :)

Eileen said...

The Musee d'Orsay was incredible. I was really taken with the Rodin museum, too. The experience there reminds me of what you're describing in the Van Gogh museum. It was amazing to see so much of his work in one place.

And yes, Steph, my son would think you're a big dork, but not as big a dork as his mother.

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