glorious beasts at the MFA

I give a lot of well-meaning advice to writers who are suffering from a lack of inspiration. I have had a similar malaise for the past couple weeks. So, what’s a writer to do with her malaise? I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I haven’t been to the MFA for a full day trip by myself in years, not since my first blog post. I visited the usual suspects: European old masters, Greek mythology dramatically rendered on canvas and in stone. Not to mention The Daughters of Edward D. Boit by John Singer Sargent. I’ve seen some of these paintings so many times that it was like meeting old friends.

There was an Egyptian tomb on display, with pots of kohl and necklaces of blue-green faience, red carnelian, amethyst. In this sculpture the women carry ducks by their wings, a symbol of control over chaos. Could this be the purpose of the entire elaborately assembled tomb – control over the chaotic and unknown world of death and the afterlife?

One of my favorite exhibits was “Glorious Beasts in Persian Painting” – half a dozen Persian works alongside paintings by Conley Harris. Bold sea blue and sunset orange and gold leaf swirled together. Harris even used a 16th century technique of using ground minerals, like lapis lazuli, in his paints. There were miniature paintings from Iran: precise brushstrokes and animal faces peering out from clusters of intricately detailed leaves.

I get a little choked up sometimes if something is really beautiful, and I also like to chat with the guards (they seem bored) and I wander around for hours. Alone, you can linger as long as you want. Even though I’ve seen some of this stuff before, something different gets to me every time. After the “Glorious Beasts” hallway I headed upstairs to the Japanese gallery and was blown away by the colorful kimonos, the sketches and paintings, the Buddhist temple. Again I met Aizen, King of Passion (multi-armed and angry looking…I’m still convinced that he will blink his third eye one of these days) who transforms worldly gain into the desire for enlightenment.

Another special exhibit was “Seeing Songs” – art inspired by music, be it the sound of music, the act of performing, or the notes on the page. There was a bank of 30 television sets on which 30 Italian superfans sang songs from Madonna’s Immaculate Collection (this was oddly riveting to watch) and an arresting photo of Big Band audience members caught in a rapture that you might see in any concert today. Not to mention a selection of Herb Ritts photos of music megastars – including my personal favorite.

Late, feet aching, I met printmaker Albrecht Durer’s “Melencolia I”: an artist in his study, suffering his own sort of malaise. Apparently melancholy was considered the “essence of creativity” in Durer’s time. Regardless, I’m feeling better after my MFA trip. It’s not that this has given me insight into my Nano book or anything so concrete as that, but it’s filled me with hope. If someone can sew those amazing kimonos or create those fantastical beasts with swirls of paint, then I must have another book in me.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 4:18 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. It’s been years since I’ve been to the MFA (a full decade since I’ve been back to Boston, in fact), and I was there at least once a week the entire time I was living out there.

    That Sargeant painting is one of my faves. My over-all fave? That one of the two wrestlers with that spiral crack in the paint that centers on the nipple of the guy who’s being pinned.

    • I remember we went there once, Freshman year! I didn’t realize you went every week. I work so close, I really should visit more often, it’s an amazing place. I’ll have to go back and look for those wrestlers.

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