I have loved Chagall's work for as long as I can remember. (You can read this post, which contains photos of his gorgeous stained glass windows at the Art Institute of Chicago.) At the exhibit at The Jewish Museum I was particularly struck, in seeing so many of his pieces together, by how much of a storyteller he was.
I have always been drawn in by his colors and the sketchy style in which he paints. But so much of signage in this exhibit focused on the symbolism in his work and I found myself absolutely floored (and moved -- I teared up at one painting). For instance, in the painting above, the red cow is said to represent Chagall (you can see the palette and brushes in his hand). His new love is seen embracing him. His much loved and recently deceased wife is pictured (with Jesus and a rooster) in her bridal wear. And then, of course, there's the flying clock. (You can see a list of Chagall symbols decoded here as well as an interesting post on the topic here.)
I find this quote from Chagall on the subject very interesting as well:
"When I paint the wings of an angel, these wings are also flames, just as they are also thoughts or desires . . . We must do away with the idolatry of the image . . . Judge me on my form and color, on my vision of the world, and not on isolated symbols. One should never paint a picture on the basis of symbols. Rather than starting out from a symbol, one should end with one, for symbolism is inevitable. Any absolutely authentic work of art automatically possesses its symbolism."
I have always felt that it is fascinating to learn about the artist's intent in creating a piece of art, but it's also important for the viewer to bring his or her own perspective to a viewing of it.
It's interesting and enlightening to know about an artist's personal history, but I'm a great believer that just as creating art is a personal experience, so is viewing art. And that's part of why I love Chagall. He's such a storyteller that, when looking at his paintings, you quickly realize everything has been placed there for a reason. You may not know the exact story, but you combine what you see with your own personal history and a story line emerges.
As often happens to me when I go to a museum, I compare my work to what I'm seeing. Standing in the exhibit I was struck by how devoid of story many -- perhaps even most -- of my paintings are. In my art journal I add the story with literal text. In my paintings on canvas, I'm usually just painting a face with lots of colors and texture. But is there a story I'm trying to tell? I don't think so.
The realization depressed me a little bit.
But then it energized me!
I'm a memory keeper and a mixed media artist after all. Perhaps it's time to push the two together a bit more aggressively. I can feel the wheels in my brain turning. I'm not sure what will come out of the turning, but I'm hopeful it will be some artwork full of story. Not a copy of Chagall's way of communicating a story. Rather, my own way. I'm going to need to work on it and develop it, but I feel like I have some ideas for how to start and I can't wait!
I hear the paint and brushes calling me!
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