Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Great art in little bitty viewing space

Being technology-challenged leads to much head scratching on my part. Quite often I scratch because I wonder how to use some gadget. I was fascinated watching a tour guide use her blackberry to make phone calls, look up phone numbers and addresses and check her messages both email and verbal, and research the locations we were visiting.

Yet, more often I wonder why people use them for the things they do. Oh the blackberry usage made sense to me in her professional capacity, her out-of-office situation where she needed to carry as much information with her as she could. But when people begin downloading art to their cell phones, I tend to wonder why?

A year ago Boston's Museum of Fine Arts began selling downloads to mobile phone users. Downloads of works of art. Monet? Hopper? Sargent? Some of the paintings and works of art that rarely appear in exhibits for fear of damage due to light, will be included in that list of downloads. Would I enjoy seeing The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit via a two inch by three inch window? The original painting is approximately 87 by 87-inches square. Would I feel the same sense of isolation, loneliness, disconnect and sadness as I do when viewing a larger image? Although I admit that the first time I saw the painting was online, so it was only a 17-inch screen's eye view. And since then I've enjoyed a two-page spread of the painting in an art book. With the dark interior that fill the center of the portrait, I find either venue difficult for discerning what lies within those shadows. The four little girls almost disappear within those shadows. And for two of the sisters in later life, madness lurked. It is a sad family and maybe Sargent had insight that influenced his choice of black background and engulfing shadows.

The four sisters' father shared the same profession as Sargent. He was an artist. But his work seems to be brighter, more hopeful, and of interesting locations, not so much about people. I've included a photo of a poster that is for sale online of Boit's Rio Di San Barnaba.

No matter what shape it takes, Sargent's portrait of the four sisters haunts me. Knowing that the two girls shrouded in darkness succumb to mental illness and none of the four girls marry. Sargent's portrait seems prescient, prophetic.

There's just something ironic about Monet's dots being turned into waves and zipped through the atmosphere to the mobile phone of your choice for a mere $1.99 per download. What would Sargent or Boit think of seeing their hard work digitalized? Perhaps they would be, as probably I would, so thrilled and honored that their work is still revered, they wouldn't care what form it was taking.


Ruth D~ said...

I have stood in fron of that large original in Boston. It's a striking painting with lots to capture the eye. I'll see it differently next time though; I didn't know that about the girls . . .

Dawn said...

Ahhhh Ruth, the opportunity to see Sargent's work in person. What a treat! I'm so glad you get that opportunity. Knowing a little of the background is fascinating to me and does put a different view on the painting as in much art -- at least for me.