[This post is inspired partially by what parts of C. S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism I’ve actually read.]
I went to the Louvre again on Sunday. Note to readers: the first Sunday of every month is a free day at the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
I never really thought about this much before, but now I like to make fun of people for paying to get into a museum and then not doing the museum thing. Ok, so I go to the sculptures (because I think it’s good value for the museum experience). I see the Canova statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss: you know the one, I’m sure. It stands in the corner of the room, and people, knowing previously perhaps of this statue (of which copies exist in Russia and New York), stand there taking pictures and leave.
I alone take multiple walks around the piece, gazing at the composition (which just looks right and appealing from every angle) while the world walks by after a short pause. Gradually I make my way around, not lifting my eyes from the statue despite my lack of art history training. It just seems the right thing to do. And I swear I’m not just checking out the figure of Psyche – because I’m also checking out the figure of Cupid.
Tongue-in-cheek comments aside, I think to myself how much more I can get out of this in doing this rather than taking a picture (or several) and moving on. You may have proof that you were there (although you may have photoshopped yourself, right?), but what’s the point if you didn’t have the time to actually look at it from 180° rather than doing what you could do with a big blown-up picture?
I shan’t even talk about the Mona Lisa. I avoid that room so that I can better spend the time. Art is like tea, I suppose: to know it, to know its value, one really ought to drink slowly enough to savour it and take in the rich interplay of smell and taste and aftertaste. If you want to gulp something quickly, you can do it with something that isn’t tea.
At any rate, I should like to compare this to the reading of books. At least no one just takes a picture with the book open pretending that he then knows the book. At the same time, who hasn’t noticed the difference between tasting literature and listening to the voice of the author on the one hand and reading for any number of other reasons on the other hand? To be sure, the former’s slow; it’s also so worth it.
[Related (courtesies of Sam K.): The Onion reports on the Met Museum now allowing patrons to touch paintings.]