In our upstairs hallway there is a
framed illustration done by Barney Tobey that appeared in The New Yorker. Mr. Tobey’s
simple, black-and-white drawings of people with skinny little legs and peanut
noses are instantly recognizable to fans of the famed publication’s
cartoons. Until his death in 1989, Mr.
Tobey was a contract artist for the magazine, and his humorous take on life was
appreciated by New Yorker readers regularly
for five decades.
This particular one (that hangs in
our home) was a gift to my husband by me many Christmases ago. In it, a taller, older girl with a big-sister
air about her is walking into a museum with a younger boy and girl -- siblings
all, one supposes -- and exclaiming “I know more about art than you do, so I’ll
tell you what to like.”
It fits our family joke perfectly
which is how it found its way to be wrapped and under our tree one holiday
early on after my husband and I were first married. The “he” in this part of the equation is a
very gifted, professional landscape painter (but don’t tell him lest it go to
his head), who also happens to possess an incredible memory and will recite all
sorts of factoids both useful and inane about many subjects, including art,
artists, and collectors.
The first time I ever accompanied
“he” to an art museum I was astonished to learn that it was sort of like having
my very own personal and live commentary. That was in the old days when the pre-recorded
comments about the traveling exhibits were loaded onto cassette tapes placed in
bulky boxes that one slung over their shoulder, so this “he” version was
actually almost quite as portable and had the added bonus of treating me to
lunch at the museum to boot.
I had lived for many years in New
York and had visited on a regular basis the wonderful art institutions for
which that city-of-all-cities is known. I had also been a visitor to many other
museums in other countries. So I will admit that, being of an independent mind,
I was a bit miffed when some of my “opinions” on the subject of art were dashed
But truth be told, he does know way more about art than I ever
will and from him I have learned to appreciate art in a vastly more educated
Seeing the world through the eyes of
an artist is illuminating. It is from the countless hours of chatter with my
husband that I now have a tiny sense about why
I find a particular subject pleasing.
For example, “It’s all about edges,”
is an oft-repeated phrase in our household. And it is true. The edges are what
tell our brain the facts about what we are seeing. “Dark” takes its definition
when seen against “light”. Framing a scene with distinct edges directs the
viewer to the point the artist is trying to make, and turns a vast world into
manageable bite-sized pieces that we can savor and try to make sense of within
our own personal frameworks.
Seeing the world through the eyes of
an artist could also very well be crucial to each of us in this era of scary
problems. Artists see positive and negative space and can focus on one or the
other almost effortlessly, a handy skill to have when assessing possible
outcomes of any given scenario. Deconstructing an object allows for the
separate pieces to be put back together in some new form, perhaps in a better
way than originally found. And artists are not afraid to be wacky. It’s sort of
expected of them. So there is the freedom to try new things even if it might be
a little weird. After all, that is what the artistic license is for, right? And
trying new, novel approaches to the same old tough problems might just be what
is required to save us all from complete destruction.
So, even now with the preponderance
of smart phone technology that makes use of funny little squiggles called QR Codes
to guide us through art journeys where no man or woman has gone before
effortlessly and without excess baggage, I still prefer my personal guide…
whether going through an art museum or through life.