Dispatch from the Field: What is Art? Is this Art?

art museum

These Dispatches, formerly criticized for including too many attractive women, is now being criticized for not having enough. A trip to the National Gallery of Art would solve that. The view of the Gallery from the outside is impressive; the view from the inside out toward the Parliament Buildings is spectacular.

As is the art inside. I took only one photo of the collection, my fervent view being that taking a picture of art is not art. It is simply a photo of art. I made an exception for my artist friend Greg, who is an amazing life painter, and sent him this photo of a painting by Edwin Holgate, one of the famous Canadian Group of Seven. The model, indicated the adjacent sign, “is truly in harmony with the landscape around her – almost to the point of integrating into the foliage completely.”


My point in emailing him this was simply “Hey Greg, look at this, neat huh? Looks like some of the work you’ve done.”

His response was as thoughtful as my comment to him was inane: “Interesting style. The model has a great body with classical proportions. The lighting is ambiguous, teasing the viewer. Lots of green skin tones in the woman’s torso shadows, suggesting reflected light from plants behind viewer or possibly from the water. I would have expected the highlights to be brighter since it appears her upper back is in direct sunlight. But the dynamic range is highly compressed so it’s hard to know. The shadows on the bottom halves of the legs are quite warm in contrast to the torso, suggesting reflected light from the rocks. The background is a bit unconventional since it’s not suppressed by soft edges and is only slightly more abstract than the figure itself. I think that’s what generated the comment about her being ‘in harmony with the landscape’ since she’s distinguished only by a slightly more realistic style.”

I just thought it looked good.

After savoring as much art as my brain could handle in a couple of hours, it was time to head to the Vineyards Bistro in the Byward Market area for some jazz and $16 fries (side order of sirloin steak included at no extra charge). There I met Carol and Jean-Maurice, from Toronto. carol and J-M.jpgMy hometown has changed since I left, they said. Millions more people, quantum level more traffic, little additional public transportation. Some of my earliest memories of Toronto are about taking the subway with my mom to go shopping downtown. I had always thought the subway system was unsurpassed, particularly because it was safe. On a visit to my folks back in Toronto in the mid-1980’s, I wanted to head downtown. I asked my dad how late was it safe to take the subway. He said, somewhat puzzled, it closes at 2am. I said, “OK, but how late is it safe to take the subway?” He said “I don’t understand, it closes at 2am,” the point being that as long as it was open it was safe. But it has not kept pace, and unless you live within the small downtown zone where the subways still are, you have to drive to get anywhere, and the drive is awful. I told them about Portland, and our light rail/trolley/tram/ and even bus system, all integrated. They would love to move into the downtown core so they don’t have to drive so much, but a 1200 square foot condo there is $1.5 million or more. So they are keeping their house in the suburbs, and cursing the traffic. I suggested they move to Portland.

I had never understood why my family moved away from Toronto when I was 11; it has always seemed like the perfect city. I still love it, but feel better living in a place where we almost never have to drive, we just hop on a streetcar, or the light rail line, or just walk. Smaller scale is not bad. Not bad at all.

And – nothing against Ontario ice wine – the pinot noir from the Willamette Valley is way better.

2 thoughts on “Dispatch from the Field: What is Art? Is this Art?

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