Friday, October 19, 2007

Nature and Art

The changeability of nature was never so evident as late yesterday afternoon in downtown Chicago. I had travelled by bus from my Lakeview residence on a sunny afternoon looking forward to a lecture at the Art Institute. Just after I settled in line inside the Art Institute building waiting for Fullerton Hall to open there was a terrible noise coming from the upper floors. I looked up but could see nothing, then I looked outside and saw a torrential downpour just beyond the doors facing Michigan Avenue. The noise was due to the sizable hail that was present with the rainfall. While the downpour did not last long, it was evidence of the power and the suddenness that nature can demonstrate. Fortunately I was inside and soon to experience a power of a different sort, the power of Art.

The evening lecture was a brilliant exposition by Helen Vendler (the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University) who spoke on the art of still life in the painting of Jasper Johns and the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Ms. Vendler, who has written two books on Stevens, was charming in sharing the profundity of her thought in a relaxed and, at times, almost conversational manner. The insights into the nature of the art of still life as it sometimes suggests death in its very stillness were superb and the audience was just as still in the intensity of their listening. Analyzing eight of Stevens' poems along with slides of several of the paintings that will soon be on exhibit from Johns' 'Gray' period Ms. Vendler deftly demonstrated the many layers of meaning that are encountered in these works. The evening was exhilarating in its offering of food for the intellect. Art was never more powerful and surely challenged the natural events occurring outside the walls of the museum.

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