Over the last several weeks l was I was privileged to take a class, “Two Masters of the Brush: Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent,” at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. The class was offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Berkshire Community College and taught by Jock Brooks, former Associate Director of the Clark and Educator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. I am still pinching myself at being afforded this opportunity.
At our last class Jock said that one of the things he had tried to communicate to us was the need to “look closely.” Subject matter, edges, brush strokes, background colors and other components of a work of art can reveal a lot about the artist, the location and era and in which s/he painted, and the movements to which s/he may have belonged (or rebelled against).
I immediately thought there must be life lesson in that phrase, “look closely.”
When we have online friends by the hundreds, how often do we take the time to “look closely” at the people in our lives?
In an age of communicating in 240 characters or less, how often do we “look closely” at an issue?
When pictures are designed to be deleted after they are viewed, how often do we “look closely” at an image?
“Looking closely” is an opportunity for learning and for connecting. It changes, for better or worse, what we see when we step back.
When my older daughter was a child, I took her to the circus at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I bought tickets right up front so she could see everything, not realizing that some things are best seen at a distance to preserve their magic. She ended up playing on the floor with a child whose parents made the same mistake, while I got to see the garish, lumbering reality of the circus. But “looking closely” has enriched my experience of the Homers and Sargents at the Clark. I am looking forward to examining other works of art with similar intensity and, I hope, remembering to bring the same attention to other aspects of my life.