Miss X: Now this is a great work of art and I’ll tell you why. It takes a scene that’s a common topic of paintings, and makes it unfamiliar and revelatory at once. A landscape canopied by a luminous sky, a village, a church steeple: human life nestled into a fold in the earth. But the sky is a wild alarm of dark and light. These stars aren’t twinkling pinpoints that can tell quaint ancient stories of gods and lovers. The tree erupts like a flame into this sky. Nature is rampant and berserk and thrilling and the tiny houses seem to sleep? to cower? to tremble in awe? at the wild world above and around them. The church right in the near middle of the scene, the attenuated steeple reaching into the gamboling night–isn’t that what faith is? what it feels like? Reaching into the raving void? Don’t you get that this is how Van Gogh really sees the night sky, then he makes me see it through his eyes, and then I’m thinking about nature and god and whether the only way things exist is the way we see them? And when I look at the painting, I’m riding that sky, not just looking at it and thinking about it? Now that’s what great art is all about: an original vision, inspired by what’s inspired artists for centuries, that opens up into the biggest questions about life in a way that feels new for centuries after the artist had his vision and laid it down for others to see.
Miss Y: Here is a painting of shoes. There’s three pairs of shoes, lying along a backdrop. One shoe is upside down.The painting is a dim world of shades of earth, with no colors of life, or nature, or ornament. Someone made these shoes, and someone has worn each pair, and someone laid each pair down here, and someone tossed one of the shoes upside down and didn’t right it. Whoever wore each pair of shoes has put them on and taken them off more times than the shoes were really made to hold up under, and judging by the worn sole and all the creases and worn out patches of leather, none of these shoes was worn just indoors on smooth floors. When do you take your shoes off, and why are these shoes unoccupied right now? These shoes are unlovely and everything about them, from their existence to their appearance to the fact that they’re in a painting, is because of what’s not there: the people who made and wore them, the actions that took them off and placed or flung them wherever they are, the artist’s peculiar decision to scrutinize and paint these shoes. The shoes are worn with age, coarse, arresting, strange, and thick with very particular lives.
Well, these paintings can’t both be great, or they can’t be really great in the same way or only one can be really great in the greatest way. I think about this when I read all these reviews of Together Through Life.