The Seduction of Art and Literature
My first experience at a National museum was when I was around 11 years old. My parents took my three sisters and I to the St. Louis Art Museum. It was full of paintings resulting in countless yawns. Not a great start and the further we walked from the small concession area, the more I wondered when this torture would be over. I mean I was 11 and my friends back home in Perryville were no doubt riding bikes, shooting BB guns, scaring up snakes (though I’m not sure whether the snakes or us were more scared) and generally avoiding all chores.
Here, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was looking at paintings on a wall of a huge indoor space with no basketball goals! Can you imagine? Making matters worse was mom telling me that none of Grandma Huber’s paintings would be on display here! I was aghast, well, at least as aghast as any eleven year old boy ever gets. Grandma Huber painted wonderful landscapes of mountains, lakes, farm fields, and boys fishing with their dogs. She was the greatest painter in my world. I loved to look at her sketches before she actually painted her canvas. And I would wander back to her painting room whenever we visited, staring at her sketches, always hoping she would happen to come in and catch me there. Then she would explain what she was thinking or remembering while she sketched. As she spoke she seemed to go somewhere else even though physically we were both in that room. It made me wonder. Those times in Grandma’s painting room were special to me.
And although I didn’t know at the time, I was lingering. Have your eyes lingered on a photo remembering a special moment or person? Have you ever finished reading a book laying it on your chest, not wanting it to end? Stood at an historical site and your imagination was on fire as you wondered how it must have felt to have lived during that time? Or what inspired the great words or great event or great battle? People of courage and conviction created something that moved generations, and could still touch that solo visitor so many years after the event.
You linger there, absorbing that connection into the very fiber of your being. The moment stays with you long after you have left and appears as if magic throughout your life.
I recently heard a writer on a podcast describe what it means to linger. Her description captures it perfectly. Although it is about writing it easily applies to all art.
“What I want is a writer who wants to seduce me as a reader, and that seduction goes to the last page. And then the seduction can actually have another aspect to it, which is the really crunchy one that you aim for as a writer, which I call the linger factor.
Now that is when, exactly like any other seduction, the seduction has been achieved, the person has left your bedroom but you go on thinking about them.
Now that is when they’ve won. That’s when they’ve got you hooked.”
A quote from Author Patricia Dunker, at 2 minutes, 25 seconds on the 7/7/2009 podcast, Redrafting and Editing, www.open.ac.uk/use
This description of the linger factor applies to all art, and all those special moments that we just don’t want to end or leave, exiting back into the normal of life. Plus it’s a damn sexy description and very personal. When have you experienced the linger factor?
The first time I became aware of it, I was that eleven year old geeky kid trudging along through the St. Louis Art Museum. We turned a corner and entered a room darker than those with the paintings. Darkness can captivate us. It seems to be something primal that may extend all the way back to our ancestors and the dark caves where they lived. And here we were walking into a room though not pitch black, it was dark enough with interesting shadows. So therefore already more exciting to me than where we had been.
And the first thing I saw was a knight’s armor. It was awesome. Immediately I imagined King Arthur. Then to my absolute delight and wonder was a wall of a castle complete with two turrets and an iron gate and small slits for firing arrows. I was in heaven and asked dad why we hadn’t started here! There were huge banners on the walls that dad explained were coats of arms. He spoke of how they identified a family by occupation, rank and other things that my eleven year old mind buzzed out. For beside those coats of arms were crossbows, and swords and shields, and huge wall paintings of knights and horses in battle.
I looked up at my dad and saw that his mood and interest had changed as well, and he would allow me to wander back to that room throughout the rest of the afternoon. I believe he was happy to be forced to look for me there, because we never seemed to rush back to mom and my sisters. His admonitions were very soft spoken as we would stand by a scene of a battle painted on a wall. We lingered. We talked. He asked me why I like it. I asked him why he liked it.
Those times in our life are all too rare. The linger factor drove me to create The Art and Whiskey podcast and this blog. Lingering has led to some of the best times in my life. Can you think of times you lingered after a movie or church or a wedding or a concert? When you bounced and jostled your way through a crowded art fair and found one artist’s work that touched you and you hung out there often jamming up the foot traffic without one iota of concern? Walked into a museum and found some art piece that seemed to have a strange, but pleasant hold on you?
So that geeky 11 year old became fascinated with museums, and artists. That museum experience created in me a lifelong desire to explore museums. If you remain open you may discover an indescribable “something” that resonates within you. We may not understand it, but we can appreciate that feeling.
Current times dictate that we must understand why we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. Artwork often captures the emotions of major upheavals. Books will give us facts, and the occasional writer does impart an emotional connection that challenges us to understand, learn and grow. Something visual though, seen only with our eyes and no other senses, fires up that connection within the shadows of our brain and gut. I don’t know why, and if you have felt that connection, I think you will agree that it is very real and reveals something of our nature.
We each have a unique story whether or not we choose to believe it. Often our collection of life experiences, education, financial and physical health layers over our soul and defuses our spirit. History is full of individuals that seem to have found a way to rise above troubles and weaknesses. Through their art they allow their soul room to breathe, whether it was on canvas, on paper, in architecture, and they share it with us. And I really don’t know, but believe that the linger factor is a soul and spirit thing between the artist and the viewer. Dare I say, a seduction?
Choose your seduction carefully. And I hope that when you do find yourself lingering, you’ll wonder why. You’ll ask, “Why do I like it?” And I’ll ask, “Why do you like it?
Share your “linger” experience with me.
Your time is valuable and I appreciate you sharing it with me. Thank you.