Friday, January 11, 2008


If I were to ever write a love song – and I won't, because I'm about as musically gifted as a concrete slab – I would write it not to a person, but to a place. Specifically, I would dedicate the love song to Madrid, Spain. However, I would pen the love song to Madrid not because I find the city irrepressibly charming – in my view, Madrid is one of the more overhyped cities in Europe – but because it contains THE museum that is largely responsible for igniting my voracious visual art hankering. Before attending a study abroad program in Granada, Spain during my junior year in college, I had been amply exposed to painting and sculpture via childhood trips to Europe and New York (big ups to my parents for those invigorating jaunts). But my actual love for the stuff didn't become fully entrenched until I visited the Prado during my junior year.

Now, granted, I could conceivably write the song to The Prado given my overall misgivings about Madrid. But, really, I would rather amorously honor Madrid, because though I don't much care for it, the city at least redeems its drearily dull aspects through making The Prado its piece de resistance.

Besides, Toledo is just down the street from Madrid, and Toledo, of course, features the luscious velvety gothic oil-swirls of El Greco. So, Madrid is deserving of a love song for its acuity in being well situated and artistically "with it."

So, once inside the Prado, visitors' senses are saturated with a grand piece of Baroque art: Diego Velasquez's Las Meninas, which measures 10.5 feet tall and 9.5 feet wide. It's a stunning spectacle that immediately immerses the viewers in a universe of mirrors and portraits and that seems to want to involve the viewers somehow. The people in the painting appear to be quietly beckoning us into their world. The painting is fully literate in elements of trickery – the portrait that the artist is painting seems to be reflected in the mirror located in the back, and yet the artist and the others are looking at us, so are WE the people being painted? It's a daringly perplexing puzzle.

I remember that when I first viewed this piece of art, my whole world practically unraveled. I suddenly "got it" about art. Art – and I'm now speaking very specifically about painting - is not just an imitation of life and its (dis)contents, but it is a creation of NEW life from what is buried underneath our more mundane ones. Art transcends the lousy limitations we repressively impose on our own existences. During artistic creation, the artist does an archaelogical dig through his or her subterranean consciousness and unearths artifacts of the cosmic imagination. Each painting is a museum unto itself, displaying images that disclose and speak to ancient and future mysteries.

Since I discovered Velasquez and the other gems in the Prado, I have devoured art in museums and galleries and on the internet and in churches and in public spaces and buildings and on bridges and walls and in restaurants and in movies and so forth. My tastes run the full spectrum; I love well-executed graffiti, petroglyphs, and the multifarious artistic movements, such as pop, gothic, modern, surrealist, Dadaist, renaissance, baroque, expressionism, abstract, impressionism, art deco, art nouveau, outsider, Bauhaus, Japanese, Chinese, Fauvist, Cubist, Realist, Futuristic, and on and on and on. It's all pretty equal to me; as long as it resonates in some way with my own peculiar pathologies, I'm cool with it. There is, of course, putrid art - some post-modern paintings just truly evade my appreciation – and counterfeit art, which dresses itself up in aesthetic disguises, butlacks the pathos to reverberate beyond the canvass.

My top three favorite artists are, in this order: Joan Miro, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Hieronymous Bosch. For one thing, each of these painters betrays a certain affinity for surrealist imagery (and for Bosch that's truly remarkable considering that he pre-dated surrealism by several hundred years). Each of these painters depicts iconic symbols whose childlike rendering belies a subtler meaning.

For whimsical Miro, that meaning would involve the expression of regional pride (he was a native of Catalunya, Spain) disillusionment with political events, and an appraisal of nature and dreams.

For Basquiat that meaning would involve a street-like sensibility; his graffiti-esque scribblings teem with tokens of urban angst and vitality.

For Bosch, that meaning would involve earthly and heavenly sin and redemption, although his paintings sometimes feel like Bacchanalian feasts featuring cosmic creatures.

Another thing besides a tendency toward subconscious symbology that these painters share is a temporal sense. Each painted in different eras - Bosch during medieval times, Miro throughout the 1900s, and Basquiat in the 1980s - and their art is rooted in its time and yet also exudes a timeless quality. Their paintings speak to our common condition of anxious curiosity.

In this issue, visual artists both known and obscure are honored poetically, as well as through the medium of fiction. We even feature a visual art imitation/assimilation by Henry Long.

The pieces herein translate to us the "earthquake effect" of visual art. Good visual art jolts us from our collective comas and rattles the very core of our being. If we're lucky, the seismic turmoil even rearranges the psychic furniture a bit so that our sensory apparatus is disordered, allowing for higher levels of functioning. For, according to Rimbaud, " a derangement of the senses" is what catalyzes clearer thinking.

May you attain lucidity through sensory dissonance, and may your favorite artist help you acheive that state.

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