A ritual of sorts

For more a decade I have practiced a simple ritual with my children. At first, when they were young, it was simply a technique to get them to tolerate a visit to a museum and pay attention a little, but over time it became a ritual within the ritual of viewing art. The practice is simple; pick one piece of art, usually what you like best but sometimes it's what you like least in the exhibit. And then gather everyone around you and talk about it. No opinions were considered inconsequential and no questions posed to the art critique challenged their justifications for their chosen piece. It is more about bridging the gap between what the piece might be saying and what they might be hearing. And then putting that into a few sentences. Over time, these momentary safe havens we created around a piece of art transformed our experience of seeing art together. Whether we speak of a piece with simple visceral reactions or test our deeper ideas, it continues to create some of the best moments for me when I stand before paintings and photographs.

It is a silent image but I can hear it. There’s a sound that comes from it.
— LaToya Ruby Frazier, on Gordan Park's photograph of Red Jackson (recording #47)

A friend recently turned me on to a project at The Met that reminded me of our own ritual. Over the course of a year 100 artists will be recorded talking about a piece that means something to them. What I love about the recordings so far, being 20 or so into the existing 60, is that the thoughts hover gracefully between the historical and the self-referential. Thoughts an art historian might shake their head at in agreement or distaste, but also things that are truly your own and untouchable; the individual sacred experience between a person and piece of art. Not unlike the glorious tension of watching my young daughter and youngest son stand in front of a Rothko painting, dwarfed by the giant canvas of grays, to argue with more than a little energy whether or not this was even worthy to hang on the wall of a gallery. Nina Katchadourian (recording #11 on Early Netherlandish portraiture) sums up my feelings about that fine moment pretty well. "I'm really responding in some ways recklessly and irresponsibly, which actually I think is okay." I think it's okay, too.

Greg ParraComment