Tuesday, March 29, 2011


This is a painting by surrealist artist Yves Tanguy.

I don't know very much about surrealism. I don't really care for Salvador Dali's paintings, mostly I suppose because I don't understand them. I always think that the deficit is mine, not the artist's, when I come upon a painting that "turns me off." If there is a dramatic element to a painting, I tend to look at it a little longer and try to understand it. Mostly I still feel the same way about it -- I just don't "get it."

But back in the early 1980s I saw this painting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and it brought me to a sudden halt. I knew inside, at a very deep level, that I understood this painting. And I was shocked at my own visceral reaction to it.

The artist called it "Multiplication of the arcs." I don't know what that meant but I can tell you that it looks exactly like what my world looked like after my divorce in 1971. That sounds funny, I know, but when I saw this picture I saw the meaning: that I didn't understand anything in front of me. Whereas I used to get up in the morning and know what was ahead for me each day, after my divorce everything I ever knew was changed. I didn't know where to put my feet anymore. I didn't know what I was stepping out on. Nothing was where I expected it to be, and I had no assurance that what I chose would hold me if I did step on it. No matter which direction I turned, things were strange now. I had nothing to base my decisions on, because I couldn't count on anything. I was totally lost in an environment I didn't understand.

I can't imagine what was in Tanguy's mind when he painted this picture. But if his intent was to capture someone's attention, he sure got mine in a hurry! And the crazy thing is that knowing he did that painting for himself but that I recognized a meaning in it for myself surely has to be an example of the power of art. In this case, my feeling was very specific.

I never laid eyes on this painting again, but I also never have forgotten it. Recently I was reading something online about "surrealism" and I wondered if I could find this picture online - or if I would actually really be able to recognize it.

I did find it and recognized it immediately. My divorce happened 40 years ago, and finding that picture now was like meeting an old friend. All the uncertainty and pain I had felt so long ago was hidden somewhere inside this jumble of a picture, I suppose. This time I could look at it and not invest it with any emotions from that time so long ago when life changed directions on me. The picture was the same, but now I don't feel a connection to it. I still don't understand surrealism, and Tanguy's "Multiplication of the arcs" picture seems as weird to me as Dali's clock paintings.

I have always maintained that artists need appreciators. I don't have an artistic bone in my body, but I count myself among the necessary appreciators. If I can understand paintings, all the better!

1 comment:

marciamayo said...

What a powerful description of divorce. Well done!