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Standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica at Reina Sofia, I became a different person. And I don’t mean that in some cheeky, self-indulgent way. I mean it in the truest sense of the word. This change was not subtle. It was startling.
I have never been a lover of modern art. With its seemingly simple brush strokes, violent streaks of color, deformed faces, stick figures, and incongruent structure, it has always grated against my craving for depth and history and culture. To me, most examples of modern art are easy to pass off as childish.
But we mustn’t confuse childish with child-like, for one is just a beginning, while the other has come full circle.
At first glance this painting, circa 1937, seemed melancholy, monochrome and perhaps somewhat morbid. And yet – like an optical illusion, elements began to appear and disappear. Multidimensional textures and hued colors took turns stepping forward to be counted, then disappeared back into the shadows. The longer I stood, the more it pulled at me. It began to haunt my mind, begging me to continue to plumb its depths, to discover all that it had to offer.
Guernica is an enormous work of art, taking up most of the entire wall of its home in Madrid, eleven feet tall and twenty-five feet long. I walked from one side of the room to the other, letting the altered angles expose its different facets. I have never stood so long in front of a single piece of art, save Michelangelo’s David.
Never have I wished I could stare at something longer than propriety would allow.
In the space of two short hours I fell in love with an entire genre of art that I had previously dismissed out of hand, and in the process realized my own lacking. I long to return to Reina Sofia for Picasso’s Guernica, Miro’s Man With a Pipe, Dali’s Enigma. Studying art in a book is one thing, but a picture cannot possibly capture the three dimensional nature of oil on canvas. It cannot convey that which lives and breathes within a created work.
I didn’t love everything I saw there. Whether it is classical or modern, some art is just paint on canvas, and some sculptures are just interesting shapes carved out of marble. But there are those rare, inspired pieces that have the capacity to stun our hearts back into beating and shape our lives differently if we stand there long enough. If we let them become a part of us. If we’re willing to make the trip.
Our lives are the art we make. The canvas on which we paint the scenes that will step forward to be counted.
What form will you take? Which colors will you choose?