An Ignorant Aesthete

To continue: I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After pausing to look at the tourists celebrating the cinematic career of Sylvester Stalone, I noticed the juxtaposition of the classical arts institution and the modern police institution. Then I generally admired the exterior of the building, and thought how great it is that there can be a huge building full of pretty things for people to come and look, even if the PPD is looking at the people. The eight dollar fee seemed pretty small for four hours of walking around looking at stuff that was made all over the world, as much as one thousand years ago. There were probably cameras inside the museum too, but they weren't quite as noticeable.

Inside the museum I spent most of my time in the more modern wing, from the 19th Century up until the present century.

I don't claim to have any academic knowledge of art. As far as judging art, I think that there are primarily two things I look for. Firstly, I have to enjoy looking at it. The artwork must be more interesting than other things that are available to look at; it must attract my attention in some stimulating way. Second, I enjoy the artwork if it seems as if the creator spent actually time creating it. Effort, crystallized in the work, a manifestation of labor transformed, makes the art more interesting to me. It doesn't matter what the art is a representing, or how, or with what, but if it looks like the author put forth a good amount of effort and I enjoy the result, then it is art to me.

I really like impressionism. Despite what place this period has in the timeline or structure of art, to me it tends to satisfy both of my general judgment categories.

Check out this Renoir painting, I think it's called The Bathers. Apparently a lot of these artists liked to paint nude women bathing. But look at it! Click on the picture to see the full view.

First, it isn't the clearest representation, although this is one of the most detailed of Renoir's paintings, according to the curration. Yet it's still beautiful! Look at how beautiful the women are, with their more classical 19th century bodies. It's no Guernica; it has no symbolic political representation. It's as nude and pure as beautiful women bathing together. Maybe in the modern age we have much more serious and depressing topics to cover than something as pure as bathers. But whatever the historical significance of the style, media, or topic, I really enjoyed looking at this painting a lot.

The more modern stuff I kind of breezed through. Much of it I just didn't find interesting; either it wasn't too interesting to look at, or it looked as if it took about 16 seconds to make, and I couldn't be convinced that the artist had really put much effort into the work.

But, I was particularly struck by this one painting, Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending Staircase #2.

How wonderful! Maybe it was how complicated the work is. Or perhaps I was attracted to how look it must have taken to construct this piece. It could not have been thrown together, it took time and effort for him to make it. A lot of cubist art looks through together in a hurry. Picasso could have sneezed on paper and it probably would sell for a million. But look at the time and dedication in this piece. Every line, every shape looks particularly chosen for its place in the entire work.

But I love both of these paintings equally. It's an exceptionally good comparison of what I mean by my standards for art.

Both are generally representing the same thing: nude figures in action. The styles and the works as wholes are so different. But, I can see in each of them the same amount of effort and dedication to the artistic project, and I think that the result is admirable in both attempts. I really enjoyed looking at both of them, and they captivated my attention that afternoon.

It wasn't until I had seen the Duchamp, and then gone back to see the Renoir again, that I noticed this other painting of a bather.

Also called Bather, according to the sign, I thought of it very similarly to the other painting. But, I noticed in the curration blurb that the collector that donated the painting (the name escapes me for now) had actually hung this painting on their wall right next to Nude Descending Staircase #2! The blurb went on to describe how this shows that to the Dadaists etc. Renoir was a very important influence.

I don't know whether or not this is true, or what this even really means, but I found it to be somewhat gratifying that here, I, an art cretin, was able to recognize a certain aesthetic comparison of value to my viewing experience that the people who supposedly know about such things also recognized.

Whatever art is, it has something to do with the difference between these paintings, whether they are hung next to each other or at different ends of different wings of a museum. Whatever it is, it's is what made me walk back and forth from one gallery to the other 3 times to compare the two in my mind.

Art is cool.

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