Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Nature - at arm's length
Here are two of my favorite paintings, from the permanent collection of the Met in NYC. I could sit in front of them for hours, and I have come close to doing that. They're representative of countless other landscape paintings that I love, like those of Millet, Corot, Church, and Pissarro.
What's so strange about that? Most of us relish the moments of meditation and pleasure we get from works of art. What I can't figure out is this — if I were actually standing in one of these landscapes, I'd be freaking out. So why do I love them?
In Cezanne's "Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley" there's grass everywhere, plants all around. I'm allergic to grass and I don't like plants. Though I can't see them, I'll bet there are bugs everywhere, too. I doubt that there's a coffee shop or a bookstore, or even a gas station within cell phone range. I doubt that AAA would be able to find me in case of a problem, and the nearest hospital — who knows how far away that is? I'd be hyperventilating after one minute.
Bierstadt's "The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak" is even worse. The sun is strong. I don't like sun, in general. And there are animals. Eeek! I'm afraid of one half of the animal kingdom and allergic to the other half. Besides, they tend to add organic matter and odors to an open area like this meadow (valley? grassy knoll?), both of which I would find unpleasant if I were to stand at the focal point of this painting. I'm cringing at the thought of what would be on the soles of my shoes. And still no Starbucks or even a family-owned bistro. Nor a convenience store to buy bathroom tissue — oh, right, there's no bathroom.
My idea of roughing it on vacation: a couple of galleries at MOMA are closed, my theater seats are in the balcony, and late night room service takes more than fifteen minutes.
Thinking about this phenomenon — why I love paintings that depict scenes I'd go out of my way to avoid — it's a lot like my relationship with fiction.
I love reading and watching movies about crime — the ensemble heist, the perfect murder, the "lovable" serial killer, like Dexter — but I don't want it to touch me in real life.
There must be a name for this syndrome?