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The other day I bought a poster. I haven't even looked at any posters since my kids were little; how many giant pictures of pop stars, reality TV people, cartoon characters, actors with their shirts off, or comic book super heroes can you look at before you decide that you have left your poster days behind you? I haven't even bothered to look at the things for a very long time. The poster that I bought I just happened to catch out of the corner of my eye because the poster display in the store was open to that particular poster while I was walking buy. Maybe it was fate.
The poster snuck into the corner of my vision, burrowed quickly into my brain, and made me stop in my tracks. It was an art poster and it drew me to it for a closer look. Art does that to me.
The poster was a print of an oil painting; not the paintings I have generally seen over the years that have been made into posters. It wasn't a Monet or a Van Gough or Andy Warhol's cans of chicken soup, all of which are perfectly find, mind you. It was a painting done by an artist of whom I have never heard and about which I know nothing, much to my shame, because it was very good.
The painting was fairly simple. A woman stood back to the observer, wearing what was obviously a black cocktail dress that was absolutely plain and draped across her body so that her bare back was exposed. Her right arm rested against her hip and her other arm was extended slightly from her body with her left hand lightly touching the keys of an upright, black piano in a chord. Her body was relaxed and her head bent to the keys. Her hand on the piano was slim and long fingered and barely touching the keys. The piano was against a bare wall and the light, which was clearly artificial and warm, was behind her, creating a shadow on the wall behind the piano. All you could see was her lovely back, her body from just above the knees, the piano, and the wall. Simple.
She was beautiful. I couldn't see a single feature of her face, just her lovely, long back, the wave of her reddish brown hair just touching her shoulders, and her slim arms and hand, but she was beautiful. There was nothing tense about her stance or body language, if anything her form was languid and relaxed. Everything about her was a mystery, a beautiful, fascinating mystery and I was enthralled.
I couldn't help but wonder about her. Was she at a party or had she just come home from one? Was she bored, pensive, sad? Was she thinking about something that had happened that evening or remembering something that happened long ago? Was she lonely? Did she feel disconnected, loved, unloved?
This is what art is. It draws the viewer in and compels us to connect with the work and the artist. It makes us share in an experience and create an entirely new one on our own. I knew that I could spend a lifetime looking at the woman at the piano and make up a new story every time about who she was, where she was, what she was feeling, and what drew her to the piano. This is the power of true art and the aesthetic experience.
I have known people who chose art to match their furniture, their walls, or the color of their drapes. I have seen art framed in a manner that does nothing to enhance the art but matches the color of the chairs. I have been in rooms where the art is chosen to match a theme or fill a space. There is nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but for me, it is meaningless. If I were able to do so I would chose the art first and then worry about the color of the walls and the furniture later, and I would chose only art that created a new experience every time I looked at it. For me, art is organic. It is a thing that can change and evolve as I do and become something more each time I experience it.
I ended up buying the poster and giving it to my brother as a gift, not just because he is a lover of good art, but also because he has, more than any man I have ever known, a true appreciation for the subtle beauty of women, and I knew that he would find the lady at the piano beautiful. He has hung the poster in his music room and he has told me that when he makes his music and looks at her he sees something new every time. He told me that in his head, he has already created several different stories of who she is and what she is feeling. That is the power of art, the gift of the artist, and the reward for those who allow themselves to truly and fully experience it.
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