I’m taking part in a challenge to try and improve my writing skills but also (and more importantly) my discipline. Please enjoy (or at least tolerate!)
In an art history class I took a couple years ago, we discussed whether or not paintings could make people cry. Certainly movies could, and some music. Books (OMG AMY’S EYES) too. But paintings? Pictures? I didn’t really think so. They were too static. Too predictable. Too stiff. Too unreal. I had favorite paintings of course, and a short look around this site shows how much I love painting, drawing, and illustration. But crying?
It happened when I was in England staying with my aunt, her husband, and her 7 amazing kids. One day I got on a bus, and I went to the V&A (the Victoria and Albert Museum for you Yanks.) So many paintings and sculptures, so much to see. I didn’t cry, though. I just smiled like the happy American I was and walked around. Then I think I got coffee and some kind of pastry and I went back to my aunt’s house, loving the bus system way too much.
The next couple of days, I didn’t travel too far until my aunt told me to make sure I visited the London National Gallery. I did.
Before I actually walked through the museum, I got a cup of coffee and a croissant. I sent a picture to my mom (despite the time difference), and then finally entered the rest of the museum. I think it had marble floors, but I don’t even remember. I know the ceilings were high, higher than I’d ever seen before. The windows were so tall and narrow, and everything made me feel tiny. I guess that’s what started the feeling of “I’m really in another world.” New accents, new bus system, new buildings. New rivers.
When I walked into the first room that actually had paintings, I know I sucked in a breath, in that kind of “inside-out sigh.” They were just so big. Books and Google can only give you so many inches and pixels. But here they were, several square feet of history and skill coming together to say something. I know that it was a little noisy, but after the first couple minutes, I didn’t even notice. I was surrounded by images that spelled out the narrative of my craft.
I saw a drawing by da Vinci. That. Got. Me. I was staring at marks from so long ago. I saw how he worked at understanding the muscles, the facial expressions, the hair, the fabric. I saw the architecture of a painting by one of the most famous painters of all. I just stared at it. I didn’t want to move. Whenever someone else walked through, I wanted to whisper to them, “I’m studying what he studied… My craft is his craft.”
I’m not sure if I actually cried, meaning, I don’t know if tears actually fell. But it certainly felt like my heart was bursting. I’m so glad I was alone, because I didn’t want someone to ask me about it, about how I felt. Then I definitely would have cried. But instead, I simply stared and tried not to touch.
Touching it probably would’ve truly killed me, if the security guards didn’t do so first.
Ever since then, I truly believed that a painting can make a person cry. But I guess I sometimes forget that seeing a picture of a painting and an actual painting are not the same. Google Images don’t make me cry.
This drawing broke my heart in the most beautiful, joyful way.