I had a very strange experience last Friday night. Does everyone have the problem I have with "last" and "next" in this context? Today is Sunday. Does "last Friday" mean the day before yesterday, or a week before the day before yesterday? Similarly for "next." Anyway, I mean June 1, a week before the day before yesterday. There are several art galleries and a lot of artists in Fairhope, and on the first Friday evening of every month there's an "Art Walk," which means that a block or two in the middle of town is closed off to traffic, the shops--art galleries and everything else--are open, there are musicians here and there: a sort of fair, in other words, or a street party.
I have to preface this with the acknowledgement that I'm not much of a visual arts person. I'm not much of a visual person in general, as my wife, who is, will confirm: my attempts to describe anything I'm not actually looking at are frequently very inaccurate. Literature and music are my big artistic interests, with the visual arts a distant third. Sure, there are pictures I enjoy looking at, and artists I like, but it's just not something I devote a lot of attention to. And where abstract art is concerned I cross over from lack of interest to skepticism and even philistinism. As a rule the best I can say about abstract art is "Well, that's sort of pretty." (The worst is "Gosh, that's really ugly.")
So: we went to last Friday's Art Walk, the first one for me, though my wife may have been before. And we went into this gallery/shop which was full of what I think of as typical Fairhope art. Since this is a coastal town, there are lots of pelicans and piers and sunsets over the water. Some are better done than others, of course, and most of them are pleasant--I love pelicans and piers and sunsets, and if I could paint, that's the kind of thing I would paint so I don't really mean this as a putdown. I've posted a lot of pictures of sunsets here. And the ones in this gallery seemed well done, but still...just pleasant. I wandered through pretty quickly and found myself in the back of the shop looking at some abstractions.
That's when the strange thing happened: I was moved emotionally. I can't really say exactly what the emotion was. It was very similar to the feelings produced by certain moments in certain pieces of music: not really a specific emotion, but a sort of pleasurably piercing sensation felt definitely in the heart; I mean the physical heart. I was a little shocked. There were several paintings there, and most of them gripped me oddly, but there was one that really produced that sensation:
I would not have copied the image and posted it, but the web site provides the HTML for embedding it, so apparently it's okay with the artist. Her name, as you can see, is Christine Linson (the copyright notice you see here is not on the painting itself). This photo of it is just that, and isn't the painting itself anymore than a photo of a person is the person. The textures of the canvas and of the paint are a part of the effect, as is the size--roughly two feet wide, I think. Or maybe more like three?--you see what my visual memory is like.
Anyway...I have no conclusion to draw from this, no larger observation; it was just a new and interesting and very pleasurable experience. As far as I can remember I have never before had an emotional reaction to an abstract painting.
A postscript to last week's discussion of Pope Francis as seen through Ross Douthat's To Change the Church, regarding the persistence of the "liberal" vs. "conservative" struggle over the meaning of Vatican II:
The bigger picture here is not the half-century-plus since the Council, but the century-plus in which the Church has been dealing with the challenge of theological modernism, by which I mean, very loosely, the skeptical spirit which tends to remove or explain away the supernatural elements of the faith, usually in the name of making it more acceptable to Modern Man. And, widening the view even further, the challenge of modernism in the whole broad sense of the incredulity of all Christian belief in the eyes of that same Modern Man. That struggle is far from over. No one reading this will see the end of it, unless the end of this world intervenes.
I think this is a much deeper and more mysterious phenomenon than we think. We tend to look at specific ideas and specific people who push those ideas, whether world-view-definers like Darwin whose names everyone knows, or theologians and philosophers like Rudolf Bultmann whose names are familiar only to those interested in the subject. But the really significant thing is that millions and millions of ordinary people who never give much conscious attention to ideas think like them. Maybe that's entirely explainable as the effect of culture and education dominated by skeptical assumptions. But I tend to think there is something more powerful at work here. I don't mean to suggest that I think it's the work of the devil, any more than false ideas always are. It just seems to me sometimes that ideas really do have a life of their own--not a conscious will, but an ability to spread and thrive under favorable conditions.
At any rate I often think of something I quoted several years ago from a comment on Rod Dreher's blog: "No matter what the Church did, [modern man] was done with it." Here's the post where I discussed it.
If you were interested in Douthat's book, but not interested enough to read it, you can get a good idea of its gist from this interview with him. This paragraph is pretty much my own view of Pope Francis:
My provisional view is that the real Francis is what he appears to be — a devout, prayerful, pastoral Catholic who has a certain impatience with doctrinal niceties and who has come around to the fairly common Jesuit view that the Church’s teachings on sexual morality are a great impediment to evangelization and need to be tacitly relaxed. This is not the same thing as having a deliberate grand strategy for transforming Catholicism into Episcopalianism, and there are all kinds of ways in which Francis is not a theological liberal as the term is usually understood.
I keep remembering something I said to my wife within, if I remember correctly, a few weeks of Francis's election: "He seems like someone who would be a great parish priest, but I'm not so sure he'll be a good pope."
A few weeks ago in the comments on that post about Nordic mythology we were discussing the disparity between the hard and violent world of medieval Scandinavia and the seeming mild blandness of contemporary Scandinavia. Marianne suggested a connection between that old spirit and the gruesomeness of Nordic noir. Well. Over the past week or so my wife and I watched the first series of The Bridge, the Swedish-Danish crime drama, and I think Marianne has a point. It wasn't the gruesomeness as such, though that was there, but the hardness. After three or four episodes my impression was something like a cold place full of cold people. There was more to it than that, of course, and the impression changed somewhat. Still, it wasn't altogether off the mark. It was reinforced by the cinematography, which is relentlessly washed out, gray and white, almost monochrome.
But the cinematography is beautiful, especially in HD. I guess I probably discussed here the British-French knockoff (remake, imitation--whatever it should be called) of The Bridge. The bridge of the original is the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and the story involves a crime that occurs on the bridge and is investigated by two police-persons, a Danish man and a Swedish woman who apparently has Asperger's Syndrome. The British-French version is called The Tunnel, with the English Channel tunnel serving a narrative function similar to that of the bridge.
I liked The Tunnel, but I liked The Bridge better. The plots are pretty similar, but I thought The Bridge did a better job of integrating plot and character, especially that of the shall-we-say-eccentric policewoman. It does have some very gruesome moments, and one or two fairly explicit and unnecessary sex scenes. I've noticed before that some of these shows "front-load" their most sensational moments, as if they need to draw viewers in with sex-'n'-violence (or in this case violence-'n'-sex) before trusting the work to engage them. In this case it could backfire, as the gruesome scene in the first episode could certainly put people off the whole thing.
I discovered recently in the course of an initially very confusing conversation that there is a third variant on this plot, this one American-made and also called The Bridge, this bridge being one between El Paso and Juarez. I didn't know about it and the person I was talking to didn't know about the original.
There are several magnolia trees in the woods around my house, but they don't bloom much, which is always a little disappointing to me because I really like these huge sweet-smelling flowers. Besides being delightful themselves, they're a pleasant childhood memory, because we had two large and vigorously blooming magnolia trees. When they were blooming there were often some of the flowers in the house. Apparently they need a lot of sun to thrive. I finally noticed this year that one of the ones near us does bloom at the top, where it gets the sun, forty feet or so up in the air. Yesterday at someone else's house I noticed their magnolia, which stands mostly away from other trees, had a lot of flowers, many within reach from the ground. I was able to experience their scent for the first time in a long time. My wife was laughing at the way I stuck my nose into this one.