I really enjoy museums that are dedicated to a single artist. We saw works spanning from when Miro was eight years old to around the time he died. I’m far from what you would call an art enthusiast, and I’m horribly ignorant by most counts, but a format like this allows me to walk through and observe—in a very obvious way—how the artist changed over time.
This is the second such museum I’ve visited—the first being the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (www.vangoghmuseum.nl). We made a failed attempt to see the Edvard Munch Museum (www.museumsnett.no/munchmuseet) in Oslo, but after a long (and also fully uphill) walk, it was closed. Disappointing, but not nearly as much as our post-5-mile-walk view of the Brandenburg Gate (www.dailysoft.com/east-berlin/mitte/bgate.htm), covered for construction and featuring a cartoonish, life sized picture of the monument.
Something I noticed as a potential pattern today is that many of the great 20th century artists started off in realism and ended in the Avant Garde. This doesn’t apply to just painting, but also to music and writing (at least). A notable musical example is Albert Ayler (www.ayler.supanet.com), bebop-esque saxophonist who ended his career playing purely emotional, energized music rendered in a loose framework more reminiscent of the world’s national anthems than jazz standards, or Arnold Schoenberg, the founder of atonal music in the Western classical tradition. As I walked through the Miro museum, I thought a lot about why this happens. And—a longer topic I won’t get into—how this might apply to computer programming, if you buy into the idea that programming is an art form. More on this later…
Something that specifically caught my attention about Miro is that, as a lover of poetry, he wanted to find a way to express poetry through visual art. He was quoted (though I’m not sure of the exact quote nor the source since I read it in the museum) as saying that he both blurred the distinction between art and poetry and appreciated poetry in terms of its potential visual representations. I would normally dismiss this kind of talk as the pretentious ramblings of a self-obssessed "Artiste", but Miro actually took some apparent steps to realize his desire to merge poetry and art. Over time (crystalizing in the early 1930’s—which seems to be my favorite period of his work) he developed an iconographic vocabulary or "visual language" which formed the basis of most of his work for the rest of his life. With this "language", he developed visual "poems" that presumably had some meaning beyond the abstract shapes, colors, and textures that we laypeople see when we look at them. I searched the museum book shop for a "Miro Visual Phrasebook" but didn’t find one (though we did find some placemats with pictures and their associated meanings in French). It’s possible (though beside the point, really) that I’m making more of this than Miro did, but the idea of a visual (or audial, for that matter) meta-language for embedding meaning in art has a definite appeal to the musician/computer-geek/wannabe-linguist in me.
As a composer (of music), I was always annoyed by conversations that started with: "What are you trying to say with this piece?" Nothing. I’m not trying to say anything. It’s music, I thought. In fact, I was particularily impressed today by the fact that many of Miro’s paintings are titled "Painting". In the same vein, my last piece of music was called "Quartet". But, with Miro’s meta-language, maybe his paintings really are "saying something" in the literal sense. Why not? The challenge of marrying the encoded meaning and the aesthetic and more fuzzy aspects of the piece would be especially interesting. Maybe this is what David Morgan-Mar had in mind when he created the Piet Programming Language (www.dangermouse.net/esoteric/piet.html), in which programs are "written" as digital abstract art.
As an aside, there was one painting in the entire exhibit that drew my attention more than any other. I saw it from across the room and had to wait behind a crowd of people who were chatting before getting a close look. I was a bit surprised when Kelly read the title to me:
Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement
Wouldn’t ya know I would pick a picture of excrement to be interested in.
Perhaps tomorrow we’ll tour the Picasso museum.