February 24, 2014

"The reason we are fighting..."

Lt. Frank Stokes: They tell us, “who cares about art?”. But they’re wrong, it is the exact reason we are fighting, for culture, for a way of life.

Good morning!  I hope you had a lovely weekend.  We had sunshine to enjoy, but the temperatures were low and this week is supposed to be frigid.  I'm ready to say goodbye to February and welcome in March!  It was a busy weekend, but we took time on Sunday to go to the movie theater and enjoyed The Monument Men, a movie I had been looking forward to seeing for quite some time now.  It reminded me how very lucky I have been to have been able to visit so many beautiful art museums, and thanks to the unflagging work of the brave art historians turned soldiers who fought to preserve civilization's art from the
Nazis all of us are able to see art that would have otherwise still be hidden, or worse yet, destroyed.

Lt. Frank Stokes: You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants, and that’s exactly what we’re fighting for.

In college, my dorm was located at the base of the art museum, and every day I took the back steps and a short cut through the galleries on my way to my classes.  I loved walking through the quiet rooms and catching a glimpse of a Degas, a Picasso or a Dali on an ordinary day--what quiet inspiration and beauty can flood your soul!  On weekends many of us would pile in my old station wagon and head over to Kansas City, where we could wander the Nelson Art Gallery and giggle at the modern art whose meaning usually left us perplexed.

Since graduation, I've been fortunate enough to have visited a few of the world's most beloved art museums, including the Met in New York City, Chicago's Art Institute, the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Tate in London, the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens.  I've gazed on so many beautiful creations and marveled at brush strokes that tell a story and marble that comes to life in a statue so real you watch carefully to see if it is somehow living.  I've gone through different phases--a passion for Monet, a delight in the Old Masters, a longing for the delicate beauty of watercolors.  And all the while, I never really thought how lucky I was and how lucky the world is that so much of the art stolen during WWII was discovered and where possible, returned to its rightful owners. The world would be less beautiful if masterpieces like van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece had been destroyed.

So thank you, Monument Men, for your dedication to preserving the world's art, and in the process, preserving the history of mankind, and keeping beauty alive for all of us

Rembrandt's Late Self-Portraits

You are confronted with yourself. Each year

The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.
You give it all unflinchingly. You stare
Into yourself, beyond. Your brush's care
Runs with self-knowledge. Here

Is a humility at one with craft.
There is no arrogance. Pride is apart
From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift
The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt
But there is still love left.

Love of the art and others. To the last
Experiment went on. You stared beyond
Your age, the times. You also plucked the past
And tempered it. Self-portraits understand,
And old age can divest,

With truthful changes, us of fear of death.
Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,
The sadness and the joy. To paint's to breathe,
And all the darknesses are dared. You chose
What each must reckon with.

 --Elizabeth Jennings (1975)

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