Monday, April 30, 2012

Art and Baseball Day, Part Three: At The Ballpark

Citizen's Bank Park

Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic! 
That's beautiful: the hurrah game! 
Well - it's our game: that's a chief fact in connection with it: America's game.
- Walt Whitman

I belong to the Church of Baseball.

I'm not as zealous as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham; more of a enthusiastic supporter as much as time and finances will allow. Delaware has no MLB team of its own, so we "borrow" the neighbors' - Phillies or Orioles.

The Phillies have been on my altar since childhood. They were one of the few things besides DNA that my father and I had in common, until he converted to the Braves in later years, accentuating an already established chasm between us.

There were seasons when I would be glued to every game, and others where I was distracted by the usual life stuff that presented itself. Whenever I returned to baseball, it was always for the Phillies, a big city team with a loony, green mascot, and fans that made Attila the Hun's army look like pussycats.

My attention would ebb and fluctuate, even after their 2008 World Series win, until the 2010's Snowmaggedon. In the midst of storms and snowpiles that seemed never to end, I dreamt of spring and all that came with it, including sun, gardens, and baseball.

I had never paid so much attention to Spring Training before, but while buried in drifts of frozen white, I became obsessed. Baseball represented everything that winter was not. It was green. It was warm. It was joyous outside playtime. And I began to appreciate it in a way I never had before. Football never held any glamour for me, and seemed a cold, violent sport. So, at the end of each season, I now begin the countdown to the days when our boys travel to Clearwater, Florida to begin their preparations.

On Art and Baseball Day, after a luxurious dip in the Philadelphia Museum's collection, I drove down to the sociological ecosystem with the dismal name of Citizens' Bank Park. That's what it will be called until the next corporate takeover. If only we could go back to naming sports complexes in honor of dead people who don't try to buy out one another.

Having not been to a pro game in many years, I discovered two things. One, not surprisingly, the food is overpriced garbage and you eat it anyway. Fortunately for me, they had vegetarian-friendly overpriced garbage in the form of vegan hot dogs.

Two, I could not stay seated. Normally, I watch a game while pumping away on my elliptical, burning extra calories after home runs. I felt claustrophic and fidgety in the stands. Although, I carry around a few unwanted pounds, I'm not nearly as hefty as some other spectators who easily had a least 100 pounds on me and still sat squished in the little plastic seats. It was much more relaxing to walk around, partaking of the occasional fat-laden munchie, and watching the game from the rails.

They lost fabulously. Went down in flames. Got smacked home to Mama. It was well enough into the season to not be too surprised. This year so far, the Phillies are inspiring more tears than cheers. Those seasons happen every so often. But, being in a baseball park, I learned, is not strictly about the team. It's a social occasion, filled with mingling, eating, and enjoying fresh air.

While observing the crowds, I was reminded of a painting I had stood in front of earlier that afternoon: Toulouse-Lautrec's At The Moulin Rouge: The Dance. Like the baseball fans who milled around the stands and alleys, the painting's subjects were also people from all walks of life gathered at a popular social watering hole.

This was our Moulin Rouge, I thought, standing patiently in the ice cream line, while waves of bodies traveled back and forth like blood cells coursing through an artery. At night, the similarity would be even more apparent, under the glow of artificial light. Even though at the ballpark there are kids instead of prostitutes, Henri might still have enjoyed it.

I'll be returning later in the season, whether the team finds their game or not, to observe, enjoy, eat like a pig, yell "Hit something!" and absorb the last vestiges of Summer before the cold starts creeping in again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Art and Baseball Day, Part Two: Scribbling Away at the Museum

Sketch of Virgin & Child, 1646, Jose Jusepe de Ribera
In case you hadn't noticed, I love to scribble.

The other, more refined term would be to sketch. Scribbling is what I call grabbing a pencil, pen, crayon, lump of coal or any other implement of creation and attacking a handy surface (usually paper) with it. Scribbling is the sound made by such an endeavor, when all other sounds fall away and shapes, curves and textures come to life at your hand.

After visiting the Van Gogh Up Close exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum, I inhaled some lunch, then set out to explore the countless rooms, hallways, nooks and crannies of the vast collection. If I saw something that caught my eye, out came the drawing pad and pencil, ready to take down pictorial dictation of a celebrated work.

It's amazing what you discover about a painting by copying its forms in simple graphite. Breaking it into shapes and tones, you see patterns that reveal themselves only after the intense scrutiny necessary for duplication.

I was drawn to Spanish Baroque painter Jose Jusepe de Ribera's Virgin and Child for its earthy depiction of the Holy Mother and little Christ. While working, I wondered about the models used, who they were and how they became the actors in this scene. Aside from the bright blue of the shawl and the angelic expressions, this could've been a sweet family portrait of any mother and baby.

Sketch of Young Boy
with Toy Soldiers
1876, Antonio Mancini
The face of the Young Boy with Toy Soldiers by Antonio Mancini intrigued me. The composition of the piece looked like that of a photograph spontaneously taken while he played. Although frilly collars and over 130 years separate the subject from any kid today engrossed in his games, the unaffected expression of youth surely hasn't changed much.

Guan Yin, 960-1279, Song Dynasty
What a delight to turn a corner into a darkened Asian temple to find Guan Yin, the enlightened figure in the Buddhist tradition associated with compassion.
I always loved the way she sits, as she is often portrayed in this position, chilling out, ever so mellow and calm. One of my favorite stories about her is when she was executed for not entering an arranged marriage and was sent to a helllish realm, her love, compassion and grace threatened to turn it into a paradise, and she was summarily kicked out. It's been said by modern thought teachers that we are each responsible for the energy we bring into a situation. The legends of Guan Yin certainly illustrate that the lesson is not a new one.

There were other sketches done during that afternoon, favorite paintings revisited as well as new discoveries. During my years in Philly while attending UArts, I regret not spending more time at the Museum while I had easier access. As I left to go to Citizens' Bank Park for the Phillies' encounter with the Mets, I made a quiet pledge to come again later this year, and also take advantage of the close proximity of smaller museums around Delaware.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Art and Baseball Day, Part One: A Visit with Vincent

Two Cut Sunflowers - Vincent Van Gogh •

Working distracts me infinitely better than anything else. 
And if I could once really throw myself into it with all my energy, 
that might possibly be the remedy.
-Vincent Van Gogh

On a carefully planned April day of Art and Baseball in the big city, I had an opportunity to attend the Philadelphia Museum of Art's exhibition, Van Gogh Up Close. A feast for the eyes doesn't begin to describe it. The image above is a poor reproduction of the original painting, which is composed of chunky, luminous brushstrokes that tempts you to run your fingers over them.

How Van Gogh depicted the arrangement of seeds inside the sunflower through the subtlest of markings amazed me, and it's something you can only appreciate standing in front of the painting itself, close enough to take in the detail, but not so close the museum guard yanks you back like a hooked trout.

Rain - Vincent Van Gogh •

From outside of his room at the Saint-Paul clinic, Van Gogh was able to capture a field bombarded by a passing storm despite the bars covering his bedroom window. What impressed me most about this piece was that it really looks like a storm. So many storm paintings attempt to bring power to the clouds and water with color and contrast, making them too bright. The above image is an accurate portrayal of a dreary day where you can almost hear the rumble of thunder and the constant pattering of raindrops on the ground and the building. You can even make out the accumulation of water into glistening puddles.

The exhibit was a further reminder that no matter how good a print job or digital capture is done, you cannot experience a painting fully, with all its personality and imperfections, unless you meet it in person. There are colors that can never be conveyed by anything other than the human eye.

So many other paintings called to me in the exhibition rooms. I did what I usually do: wandered around like a lost drunk, gazing at some for several minutes, then running back to others that had stuck in my mind. I tried to exit several times, only to be stopped by the urge to make another round, all the while sending my love and gratitude to the artist.

After making it out the exit, I was immediately bombarded by the commercial inspiration of Van Gogh's work through the vast variety of overpriced items in the gift shop. Prints, bags, umbrellas, games, shirts, scarves, mugs, magnets, and so on. What do you think, Vinny? Thousands of dollars gleaned from paintings that people in your lifetime didn't give a damn about. You only sold one painting. These folks are making a fortune. The most painful offerings were the holographic bookmarks. Gag. That being said, a magnet of Two Cut Sunflowers graces my refrigerator, and the accompanying coffee table book for the show lies on my ottoman.

An art teacher of mine once told of how someone had said that an artist must suffer in order to create. My teacher had scoffed at this, only to change his mind later on. I, too, did not embrace the notion that pain was necessary for an artist. It seemed like a dismal future for anyone who embraced a creative career. But, the years have taught me different.

When we create, we enter a new world, away from the one that is the source of the pain. For a little while, the brushstrokes, or chords, or words, or whatever becomes the reason to exist. The relationship to the medium is the only one that matters, and it's a relationship that gives far more comfort, sometimes, than those with the situations and people in our lives. Van Gogh seemed to feel that keenly, as suggested by the above quote.

If the universe gave us the pain of our self-awareness, it was at least thoughtful enough to also give us a wonderful form of escape that can still be shared with others.