I’m making soup and reading this book: “Pictures & Tears” by James Elkins. His theory is that “Most of us, I think, have never cried in front of paintings, or even felt anything very strong.” (page ix) so he then examines the ‘unusual’ cases of those who do find artwork moving.
Right off the bat, this book interested me: because I strongly disagree. I have definitely found paintings moving and that has included tears. Anecdotally, I find my friends tend to be moved, also, by art – although admittedly many of my friends share my interest in art. I was intrigued to see what his findings were (he invited fellow art historians and put general inquiries in newspapers and journals – he had 400 replies).
Who is the author? James Elkins is an art historian and critic – he wrote this book in 2001, but has published many art history books and continues to tour and give lectures, worldwide. He’s refreshingly readable and understandable.
When the book arrived, it was a gift – part of a range of books all given to me at the same time. So, of course, it was difficult to settle on one. In the end, I have read the book in parts, but not totally and not from page one to page 272. So – here I go. I’ll let you know the book review, once completed.
In the meantime, Dr Elkins has given some tips to encourage deeper experiences with paintings:
- Visit galleries alone
- Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to see everything, pick one or two rooms and then pick ONE painting/artwork to concentrate on
- Minimise distractions. Pick an artwork in a space where fewer people are passing e.g. in a corner
- Take your time. Look at it. Stand back. Look again. Sit down and relax. Walk away, come back and see it afresh.
- Pay full attention, until you are almost absorbed into the picture.
- Do your own thinking. You can read up a bit, take an audio tour – but still think for yourself about the artwork.
- Look for people who are really looking. If they spend time with the same artwork, and will talk to you later, they often have an interesting story to connect with it
- Be faithful. Keep coming back, to look at the same artwork.
Having written all that, it strikes me that this could be interesting dating advice, in moderation. The other person/artwork could certainly not complain of lack of attention….
I’ve experienced this a lot when I’ve been in galleries 🙂 I think there is some deeper logic behind the reason why it happens. Why do only particular artists or particular scenes trigger such an emotional response? Is it just our taste or is it something deeper? Very interesting topic for a book 🙂
James Elkins explains what the influence of paintings is like: – “in a way that isn’t easily put into words, that slides in and out of awareness, that seems to work upwards toward the head from somewhere down below; a way that changes the temperature of your thinking instead of altering what you say.” I think we’re in the area of emotional and spirituality and memory here.