Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times: Room One

Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times (show title) On a freezing Monday, with less than forty-five minutes to spare, I limited myself to only one room of the Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times show at the Frist Art Museum, and in that roughly half hour, I found an excess of satisfying art. One of the joys of membership is that I feel I can come and go as I please, so when another free hour arises, I’ll go and take in another room. I have until the fifth of May.

Details draw me in, perhaps, more than full compositions, like the textural lines Degas, tiny bronze horse-headon the cheek of a tiny bronze horse-head by Degas, or the brushstrokes in the beard and cheeks of a portrait by Cezanne. There’s the short column of green in the background of a Toulouse-Lautrec bar scene–almost concealed by the bartender–which I imagine is someToulouse-Lautrec; bar scene; absinthe kind of dispenser of absinthe. Or the vertical lines in a mirror’s reflection of a woman trying on hats, whose face (in the Degas; millinery; ghost facemirror) is a literal, ghostly blank, also by Degas. I’m drawn by the juxtaposition of complementary colors, and by the texture and brilliance of oils.

When I walk into a room and spy a Cezanne, it’s like realizing an old friend has been invited to the same party; a feeling of reunion arises. The piece is an Alan magnet. Even if I don’t go directly to it, I’m aware of its presence; I feel it calling out to me, like ideology. In the portrait of VictorCezanne; Victor Chocquet; portrait Chocquet, the master’s touch is unmistakable: a face built with blocky, diagonal strokes. I echo art critics ad nauseam when I say that Cezanne’s surfaces are built rather than painted; they have scaffolding.

I left that solitary room of the Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times exhibition in full awareness that the majority of the show still lay behind me, unseen. But I didn’t feel as if I’d cheated myself out of anything. My art-loving cup was full. Indeed, one room at a time, for an hour here and there, might be the best way to experience a show of this magnitude. As long as you don’t have to pay admission every time.

the author, Alan D. Tucker
Alan D. Tucker is a novelist, blogger, and essayist.

Ideas are Invisible Golems

replica of a golem (ideas in statue form)
Replica of a Golem (Wikipedia)

While listening to Jessa Crispin’s Public Intellectual podcast, it struck me that (and I’ve heard this before but it didn’t settle with the kind of weight it does now) there’s a real sense that ideas are actual things operating in the world, as in not just in the minds of people, but as in being nearly autonomous things themselves–things with agency; things that impose themselves on people’s minds and either persuade them to think a certain way, or maybe they seek to nestle inside the neural pathways so deeply that the thinker believes all his ideas originate in his own mind. 

Ideas can be like water, which depends on passive force to carve its canyons. As with water, time is of no concern to ideas; they will arise when conditions are suitable, unbidden and essentially unopposed. On the podcast, Crispin’s guest was talking about a historical moment, and he referred to an idea as having “crept in.” So ideas can also be like critters, scurrying in when the door’s left open and unattended, setting up residence in the wall and forcing the homeowner to reckon with their presence.

I think of the Jewish mystical concept of the golem, which, in the most reductive way I could possibly explain it, is a figure made from clay who is then spoken to life by its maker (think Adam in the biblical account of creation, except instead of God speaking a little clay man to life, a rabbi does it). Golems don’t have the agency of a human; they are created for specific functions, such as protecting cities or any number of its creator’s biddings. But whatever it does, it’s out there, animate and self-starting, like a sentient being, but not quite.

In the real world, can we imagine ideas being like this? We generate them, and they remain in the environment–out and about, ranging here and there, waiting for the right moment to assert themselves. Imagine it: at your work, in your house, at the store, and along the highway, ideas are there, put there by us but hidden from view. They sit in the room with you, ready to pounce.

the author
Alan D. Tucker
Content Blogger, Essayist, & Novelist

Cowering before the Bathroom Mirror

The transition between sleeping and waking is the closest we come to genuine human frailty and nakedness. It’s when we glimpse our deaths and shrink from them, cowering before the bathroom mirror. It’s when cliches fail me, and the disconnect between what I would and what I should is at its sharpest–between my insecure but curious will and the daily routine; between what’s projected by me, easy as a rose unfolding, and what’s expected of me, immovable as a granite wall. Within an hour-and-a-half, the former has either concretized or melted, but in either case is set aside; the latter, however, can be avoided no longer. My workday is beginning.

This morning’s psychopompic escort up I-65 is My Morning Jacket’s 2002 EP, Chocolate and Ice. It was my transport across the divide, though the journey doesn’t feel complete–I’m still acclimating to work. Along the the way, the trees stood mute and gray in their rank beside the interstate–the trees a soft backdrop, the interstate a hard intimation of movement. The effect of that combined visual–trees and road–is numbing, but also comforting. Maybe both feelings grow out of familiarity.

Everybody transitions from bare consciousness to daily routine somehow: some with prayer and holy book meditation; some with exercise; some with TV news; some with reading, writing, painting, or music; and some with the day’s first beer–often it’s a blend of two or more of these things. But one thing I now believe: there’s no remedy for the human condition. Those morning rituals we depend on to buoy ourselves for the time we must spend out in the world, those nightly rituals that help us to be okay with the trappings of our individual existences–it’s all just a quick-fix–daily pills to buffer that bare-boned state of insecurity that confronts us first thing in the morning.

the author
Alan D. Tucker
Content Blogger, Essayist, & Novelist