There are works of art everywhere. They fill museums, houses, squares and books. Impossible to see them all, even know most. Knowledge always implies saying what we will fail to see and analyze, rather than what we will actually do as an aesthetic project. You marry one or two people. It means you no longer have the marital experience with billions! Everything is always the same choice: what will I put aside and never know?
Frames are windows. I look out for them and their world watches me. I see and I am seen, I travel and I am scrutinized. The experience of a painting is like that of a text: the book also reads me. If not, it becomes a boring and aesthetic art class. Example? “The painter did not use defined drawing lines, he made colored shadows, defined almost everything by light and recorded a quick snapshot of life and, as a result, there is a chance to be an impressionist.” The above observation is helpful, as a dictionary is for literature. It is important not to confuse Mestre Aurélio or Houaiss with Fernando Pessoa or Clarice Lispector. Style grammars are tools for understanding aesthetics and emotion, never art itself. Imagine someone saying they love good food and, when asked why, mentions how to glaze, reduce a sauce or distinguish between crème brûlée and crema catalana… Those who love it cry with art and do not classify brushes by diameter. Art is a window. For her, something must come out and something else must enter. Along the way, the dialogue that changes someone’s life.
I want to talk about four fundamental pictures in my life. I only used the subjective impact criterion on me. So please don’t cover: “You didn’t include a painter from Cambodia or with convergent squint.” Every choice implies loss. Mine has an insuperable arbitrariness: my emotion.
I was a teenager when I first saw in an art encyclopedia: The storm, by Giorgione (The Academy, about 1508). I did not understand. Maybe that’s it: it escaped logical comprehension: a nursing woman, a soldier, a kind of lightning bolt, and a perched white stork. Strangeness can be a start. Intrigued, I read about him. There is a multitude of interpretations. The Venetian painter must laugh at most. I was 32 years old when I saw the work live in Italy. I had already taught Giorgione. Now it was there small and dense, almost the size of the Mona Lisa of Leonardo. I’ve dreamed of the painting. The storm works like truffles: I understand who doesn’t love, it’s something outside the spectrum, different from a large and joyful work like the water lilies of Monet. Reinforcement: my selection is arbitrary.
The second is also from the brilliant peninsula: Judith and Holofernes, by Caravaggio (Palace Barberini/National Gallery of Ancient Art, circa 1599). Here everything is more open: a dying general, a biblical heroine and a maidservant anxious for the head. I have an experience as a teacher of teenagers: they are sleepy with the Baroque class until I show them this painting. Everyone wakes up. I describe the scene in the Bible. Some laugh: “She lay with the guy and cut his head off in the morning!”. Caravaggio continues to have an effect on Contrarreforma and on the internet’s youth. It’s strong, it’s dramatic, it’s art in every sense of the term, from technique to emotion. Giorgione would be Ingmar Bergman, Caravaggio would be Quentin Tarantino.
Don’t expect too much logic. The third window is a row of frames. I speak of the murals seagram, by Mark Rothko (partly at the Tate Gallery in London, from 1958). Here it was not an easy love. I had to read a little, go to Rothko Chapel in Texas, teach a course on the painter and see the piece Red, with Antonio Fagundes and his son Bruno. Finally, what ignited the fuse of the still wet gunpowder was the book the power of art, by Simon Schama, with the chapter on paintings. Finally, the light came on, and every time I go to London, I walk into that dark room at Tate and I’m ecstatic and ecstatic. I can not explain. They are my windows to unreason and to the stunned silence. If it were a religious experience, Giorgione would be a Catholic, Caravaggio a heretic, and Rothko a Buddhist.
The fourth window will be honored at the 2022 Venice Biennale. She is Anglo-Mexican: Leonora Carrington. The board Offering (and several others of hers) is at West Dean College (West Sussex, painted in 1957). Almost everything was symbolic and surreal, something somber, as if aesthetics were allowed to break free from its alliance with the beautiful. Life rethought by imagination, “the milk of dreams”, the motto of the Venice exhibition that curator Cecilia Alemani chose for the post-pandemic party (we hope so…). I was never in love with surrealism. Leonora Carrington worked, for me, like the little dog that gives itself to someone who, until then, said he was averse to pets and, when petting the animal, surrenders to the act that contradicts the speech. A brilliant woman in all and in detail.
I rolled down four windows of my life. I warned: they are random. Random is very revealing. What would your four paintings be, dear reader and esteemed reader? Which windows allow light to enter your soul or show your pupil dilating into a new world? Make your list! Happy week with new lights!
* Leandro Karnal is a historian, writer, member of the Academia Paulista de Letras, author of The Courage of Hope, between others