Whenever I spend a bit of time in any city I try to do the usual touristy things before getting up to the inevitable mischief after which appreciation for churches, statues and galleries is greatly diminished. I have been to some of the great galleries like the Tate Modern in London, the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Van Gogh musuem in Amsterdam. I usually read the gallery captions and guides, buy the audio tour (best one ever was in Forbidden city in Beijing - voiced by the eyebrow himself ... Roger Moore), stand in front of as many paintings as I can and try to get an understanding of the artist's life and why, or for who, he painted them.
When it comes to paintings I feel I have to know this background information to truly appreciate them. This probably indicates my inability to simply appreciate a painting for what it is - a work of art. Nonetheless, despite my initial zeal , the tour is usually rushed through in the end, fast forwarding the audio commentary. Maybe this just isn't the way art should be seen. One great piece of art should be enough to contemplate and digest over a day. So ...
I have chosen one painting for the day. It's "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh.
Not very original I know but I liked the way it took a while to take in the full content of the painting. Initially, your eyes flicker over each of the exaggerated stars in the swirling night sky and then you realise there's a large, dark structure on the left that seems out of place with the quaint, cosy looking town below. Van Gogh painted this from memory in his room in an asylum. Maybe you could interpret this painting as revealing his sense of isolation on the fringes of society and despite all the beauty in the world, he still feels dark and lost - or else it's just a nice picture with some stars.
Below are the last 3 verses from the song "Starry Starry Night". Very melancholic, I know, but it's really a beautiful ode to a tragic man. These verses describe how even though he created beautiful works of art that would forever hang in "empty halls" they could never return his love so true ... cue throat clearing now.
Don McLean - Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.
Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.
Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...