Saturday, August 2, 2008

“So beautiful, I cried.”

The aesthetic moment that brings one to tears. I’ve heard of this before and certainly can imagine being drawn to a work of art through an emotive power that seems impossible to describe. Rothko claimed his all-over paintings successfully drew viewers to tears. I would sometimes joke about this instance in my classes. Then after a class during which I introduced the passion of Rothko and Newman’s “zips,” one of my students approached me in tears telling me she got it, she felt it…the aesthetic moment. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy to have introduced a student to this moment or jealous.

As much as I am passionate about art, I had never seen anything so beautiful that it brought me to tears. Then yesterday, at the Cincinnati Art Museum when I casually drifted into Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses I got it. This was the first time I had ever seen Crewdson’s photography in person. It is not only the large scale and wonderful detail of these photographs that mesmerizes, but the subject of American suburban stories that drew me in. To capture these rather gritty scenes with a lushness that is more often reserved for pristine landscapes or nature photography is wonderfully brain twisting.

I caught myself a few times trying to gain some stability by recalling Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, and Edward Hopper; a classifying habit that is the bane of the art historian. Though in the end pushed away those artists and their influential works and simply enjoyed Crewdson’s compositions, refusing to fight back the tears.