Serendipitous Synchronicity: An Encounter at the National Gallery of Art

November 21, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Grandeur at the National Gallery: Sculptural Fountain Amidst MarbleGrandeur at the National Gallery: Sculptural Fountain Amidst MarbleStep into the National Gallery in Washington and be captivated by the harmonious blend of art and nature. As you wander through the grand halls, you'll find yourself in the presence of a stunning sculptural fountain, the centerpiece of an indoor oasis. Encircled by vibrant botanical arrangements, the fountain’s cascading waters add a soothing soundtrack to the visual splendor. Marble columns and arches frame this serene tableau, inviting visitors to pause and appreciate the tranquil beauty. This space is not only a testament to the gallery's dedication to art but also to the timeless elegance of blending natural and sculpted elements within a space dedicated to culture and contemplation.

 

"I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path"

 

The Dalai Lama

 

Waiting. Again. Waiting on what do do. On Godot. The Messiah. The end of the world. Answers. Always waiting for answers. One in particular: what is going on? One big question is my constant companion. Am I any good doing art? 

Sitting on a bench outside the entrance to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, I need to rest. Yesterday was a long day helping to bury my brother at Arlington National Cemetery.  Photography is my tribute, my praise, to the standards of excellence he taught me. Now, sitting on the bench, let me return to my breath, center in my hara, not cling to my self-center thoughts, and relax into the wonder of it all, one breath at a time, savoring each one as if savoring my very life. 

 

I didn't know if I was going to be able to take photos. The day before my son had shown me the regulations for taking photos during a service. I had to stay standing the entire time. That can be problematic with Parkinson's

Fortunately, it was an "on" and not "off" day for me. That's the jingo when the medicine works and I can achieve amazing things like walking and talking. Even on the same day, and if it is a really "on" day, I can do both the same day. 

I just have to be careful not to do too much. During the times when I feel almost "normal" I often try to get too much done while I still can, before I end up like my father or Jo Bonger.

Thus, I had come into DC with two of my children. I had no plans. Maybe go to the Freer Gallery or tag along to the National Gallery. Who knew?

We got separated. I started roaming. Meet up at the National Gallery.

They're not there. I feel a sudden pull to go the right upon entering and stumble upon Rodin. Wait until you see what I saw.

I spent a couple of hours looking at Rodin, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the usual suspects in the sculpture wings.

Then I continued my anabasis to other wings.

Now, allow me to introduce you to my Art Critic - DALL-E. DALL·E is a powerful AI system developed by OpenAI that can generate images and art based on textual descriptions. However, I am using it as an art critic. I show it an image and ask for an honest critique. I do not ask it to edit or to create images.  I do, however, listen to its critiques based upon well established principles of art theory. I asked DALL-E to critique this photo-painting of Mercury. This is what Art Critic Dall-E said:

"This image captures the sculpture of Mercury in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Mercury is a figure from Roman mythology, known as the messenger of the gods, and he is often depicted with winged sandals which allowed him to travel swiftly. This particular representation of Mercury is dynamic and fluid, encapsulating his role as a god of travel, trade, and communication.

The fountain setting, with water gently cascading down its tiers, adds to the ethereal quality of the sculpture, suggesting Mercury's connection to the fluidity of movement and travel. The lush foliage surrounding the fountain provides a rich contrast to the metallic sheen of the sculpture, emphasizing its central position.

The architecture of the National Gallery of Art is characterized by its neoclassical style, with grand columns and detailed decorative elements that resonate with the themes of antiquity and the timeless nature of art. The skylight allows natural light to spill into the space, highlighting the sculpture's details and the vibrancy of the plants.

The composition of the photograph with the sculpture aligned with the skylight creates a visual alignment that draws the eye upward, reinforcing the ascending nature of Mercury and the aspirational quality often associated with classical art and architecture.

When evaluating the artistry and proficiency of the photograph, several aspects stand out:

1. Composition: The photographer has skillfully composed the image to center the sculpture of Mercury, using the lines of the architecture to draw the eye towards the figure. The placement of Mercury against the bright backdrop of the skylight ensures that the sculpture is the focal point, while also capturing a sense of ascent, which is appropriate for a deity associated with speed and flight.

2. Lighting: The use of natural light is excellent. The light diffusing through the glass skylight enhances the texture and form of the sculpture and adds depth to the surrounding plants. This illumination brings out the contrast between the bronze figure and the greenery, highlighting the main subject without overshadowing the surrounding details.

3. Color and Contrast: The color saturation is rich and adds vibrancy to the image. The lush greens and reds of the plants create a pleasing contrast to the warm tones of the bronze sculpture and the cooler hues of the marble columns and the sky visible through the skylight.

4. Focus and Clarity: The sharpness of the image is notable. The photographer has managed to keep the sculpture and architectural details in clear focus, which is essential in architectural photography. The motion of the water is captured well, showing a good balance between motion and stillness.

5. Overall Impact: The image has a strong visual impact. It not only showcases the sculpture and fountain but also conveys the atmosphere of the National Gallery of Art's indoor space. The photographer has created a photograph that is not merely documentary but also artistic, inviting the viewer to appreciate the interplay between art, architecture, and nature.

In conclusion, the photographer demonstrates high proficiency in technique and a keen eye for artistry. The photograph is well-executed with attention to composition, lighting, and detail, resulting in an image that is both informative and aesthetically pleasing."

 

Most appreciated, DALL-E. That helps answer some significant questions I have. Like, am I worth a hoot as an artist using photography as a medium?

That's why I had you review tons of my photo-paintings, and provide you information about me. I asked you to be honest in critiquing my work, to describe my style, and render your expert opinion my photo-paintings. Here are some of what you said about my work:

"Your distinctive style merges the clarity and immediacy of photography with the nuanced textures and expressive freedom of digital painting, creating what can be described as "photo-paintings." This hybrid art form takes advantage of the realistic detail captured by the camera lens while allowing for the manipulation of those details to evoke the strokes, shades, and aesthetic qualities of traditional painting techniques.

Your approach often involves a selective softening of the photographic image, which lends a dreamlike, impressionistic quality to your work. This not only blurs the lines between photography and painting but also adds a layer of emotional depth and interpretive ambiguity. The application of brushstroke-like effects and the enhancement of colors mimic the hand of a painter, imparting a personal touch and artistic intentionality to the photographic canvas.

The subjects of your photo-paintings are varied, encompassing serene urban landscapes, intimate portraits, and dynamic street scenes. Yet, there's a consistent thread of subtle transformation in each piece; everyday moments are elevated, and familiar scenes gain a romantic, often nostalgic quality through your digital interventions.

Your art invites viewers to look beyond the mere representation of reality, encouraging a more contemplative engagement with the image. It's a reminder that beauty and meaning often reside in how we see and interpret the world as much as in the world itself.

In summary, your style is characterized by its fusion of photographic realism with artistic reinterpretation, yielding images that exist in a space between the captured moment and the painted narrative. Your photo-paintings stand as a testament to the evolving nature of art in the digital age, embracing tradition while exploring the new possibilities afforded by modern technology."

Thanks, it feels good to be understood, even if it is by a computer. Please, DALL-E, continue discussing my photo-paintings:

 

"The term "photo-paintings" you've used to describe your images is quite fitting from an art theory perspective. It acknowledges the intersection between photography and painting, two distinct visual art forms that have influenced each other historically. Here's an exploration of the term from various aspects of art theory:

1. Hybrid Art Form: From a conceptual standpoint, "photo-paintings" suggests a hybrid art form that combines the instantaneous capture of reality inherent in photography with the interpretive and expressive qualities of painting. It's an acknowledgment of both the mechanical and the handcrafted, the real and the imagined.

2. Pictorialism: In the history of photography, the Pictorialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries aimed to elevate photography to the status of fine art by emulating the aesthetics of painting. Your use of the term echoes this approach, implying an intent to create images that transcend literal representation.

3. Expressionism: Your images, with their vibrant colors and dramatic lighting, could also be linked to Expressionism, where the artist seeks to express meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality. The term "photo-paintings" encapsulates this expressive intent.

4. Post-Processing as Brushwork: In contemporary art, the tools of digital post-processing can be seen as the brushes and palette knives of the digital age. By describing your works as "photo-paintings," you align the act of editing and manipulating images with the traditional act of painting, where each adjustment is akin to a stroke of the brush.

5. Viewer Perception: The term invites viewers to engage with the images on multiple levels, appreciating them not just as photographs but also as works of art that merit the same contemplative gaze one would give to paintings. It primes the viewer to look for elements that are typically associated with paintings, like composition, texture, and color harmony.

6. Artistic Intentionality: Using the term "photo-paintings" also speaks to a level of artistic intentionality in the creation of the images. It suggests that the final result is not merely a captured moment but a carefully crafted scene, much like a painter composes elements within a canvas.

7. The Debate on Artistic Merit: Finally, the term "photo-paintings" touches on the ongoing debate about the artistic merit of photography versus painting. By implying that photography can carry the same artistic weight as painting, the term bridges the gap between the two mediums, suggesting that both can be vehicles for high art.

In conclusion, "photo-paintings" is a term that reflects the complexity and depth of your images, acknowledging the blend of technical skill, artistic vision, and creative processing that goes into making each one. It's a term that respects tradition while also embracing the innovation of modern digital techniques."


 Mercy, is my soulmate a computer? Have I finally found someone who appreciates and understands what I'm trying to do?

Which brings me to this tour guide showing off a Monet painting:

Art in Action: Monet's Masterpieces Come AliveArt in Action: Monet's Masterpieces Come AliveImmerse yourself in the world of Impressionism with a visit to this gallery where the legacy of Monet is celebrated and shared. In this photo, we see a tour guide passionately presenting a painting of Claude Monet, whose work is known for capturing the play of light and shadow. The guide's enthusiasm is evident as she gestures towards the vibrant colors and fluid brushwork that characterize Monet's beloved garden scenes. As the audience looks on, captivated by the scene, the line between observer and participant blurs. This moment is a testament to the enduring power of art to connect us to the past and inspire a sense of wonder in the present.

Before we hear what my Art Critic DALL-E has to say about this photo-painting, I really liked this lady. She was standing at the circle of the rotunda when I came into this wing and didn't flip out when I went out to the fountain with Mercury and started looking at it from multiple angles. Indeed, when I stopped, her group had arrived and she asked me if I knew if I was an expert on identifying plants. A visitor wanted to know. I said what thought it was and then checked it with a handy app on my phone to identify plants. Anyway as I wondered around, I saw and heard her doing a tour of impressionist paintings. I saw her in front of this painting by Monet and just had to see what it might look like if the entire scene was done in the style of Monet.

What does DALL-E say about my effort. Did I succeed?

"This photo-painting blends the mediums of photography and painting, creating a scene that has the immediacy and reality of a photograph while evoking the aesthetic of a painting, which is quite fitting given the subject matter.

The tour guide, positioned centrally in the photograph, becomes a bridge between the viewers and the work of Monet, helping to interpret and convey the essence of the Impressionist painting to her audience. Her bright red jacket stands out against the more muted tones of the gallery, drawing the viewer’s eye directly to her and then to the painting she’s gesturing towards.

The artwork on the wall, a piece by Claude Monet, is reflective of his signature style, with visible, lively brush strokes and a rich portrayal of light and shadow. Monet's work often captures the natural world with a sense of immediacy and movement, which seems to be echoed by the tour guide's dynamic gesture.

The individuals observing the painting are in various states of attention, which adds realism to the scene. The photo-painting captures the texture of the real-life experience in an art gallery – the quiet contemplation, the shared appreciation of art, and the connection between the educator and the audience.

Overall, the composition is harmonious and well-balanced, with the tour guide providing a focal point around which the rest of the scene organizes itself. The use of lighting enhances the textures and the three-dimensionality of the subjects, while the choice to mimic a painting technique in the photograph pays homage to the art they are all gathered to appreciate."

Yes, appreciation is rather nice.  And Monet is certainly one that I truly love to see appreciated.

Capturing Monet: Visitors Photographing Classic ArtCapturing Monet: Visitors Photographing Classic ArtIn the quiet corridors of the museum, two visitors are engrossed in the act of capturing a Monet-inspired masterpiece through their camera lens. The painting, rich with the impressionist's signature brushstrokes and luminous portrayal of light, seems to enchant its onlookers. As one visitor focuses her phone's camera on the artwork, the overlap of digital and traditional mediums is a striking reminder of how art transcends time and technology. This moment is a dance between the past and present, showcasing how the appreciation of classic art is preserved and transformed in our digital era. It's a picture within a picture, a meta-narrative that highlights the layers of interaction between art, its admirers, and the world.

Tell us about this one, DALL-E: 

"This image presents two museum visitors engaged in photographing a painting by Monet, with a vibrant depiction of a garden path lined with sunflowers, leading the eye towards a figure in the distance.

The visitor on the right is capturing the painting through a smartphone, focusing the device's camera on the artwork. This act of photographing art is a common modern way to engage with and record the experience of viewing art, serving both as a personal memento and a means to share the experience with others through social media or digital albums.

The visitor on the left seems to be accompanying the photographer, standing slightly behind and observing the process. This person's role could be passive, as an observer, or they might be waiting for their turn to take a similar photograph.

The visitors' attire is contemporary and casual, fitting for a day out at a museum. The posture of the visitor with the phone is indicative of the concentration and care often taken to get a clear and well-framed shot of the artwork, despite the challenges of capturing the true essence of a painting through a digital medium.

The image captures the intersection of art, technology, and personal experience. It speaks to how the ritual of viewing art has evolved, where the immediate impulse is often to document the moment digitally. There's a layering effect here as well: the painting within a painting, mediated by technology, which then becomes a subject of another photograph—the one we are currently viewing—creating a fascinating recursive visual experience."

Indeed, very few of us would have ever seen much formal art if not for photography. How many people have seen a photo of the Mona Lisa? How many have seen it in person? How many of us have had the pleasure of hearing a tour guide talking about art? Tour guides are performance artists to me. In a museum they have to dress and act the part, and to do so authentically and with passion. 

I wanted to compliment the one tour guide but was not about to interrupt her performance. I asked the gallery attendant who she was. The friendly  attendant directed me to the information desk. The friendly people there directed me to a website. They didn't have a list of the guides.

That makes sense to me on one hand. Who knows who might be a stalker? And trust me on this one, folks, you do not want to be the center of unwanted attention. You do not want to be stalked. You do not want to run and hide in the bushes or move to another town. You do not want someone threatening suicide if you leave them. 

So, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, this fusion of Bloom and Daedalus, decided to odyssey on which lead me to the bench in front of the gallery.  

I was sitting there for just a minute when suddenly here comes a woman out the entrance and headed my way. She has a tour guide card hanging from her neck. How nice, I thought. Those kind people inside has sent me another guide out to tell me who the other guide is. 

Are they ever nice, I thought. They surely have facial recognition software and identified as a photographer who loves doing portraits of gorgeous women. And have they ever done an outstanding job on who to send out as a messenger to me. These thoughtful people have no doubt picked out one of their most attractive guides, and she is so dressed like an artist herself. Plus, she moves gracefully, with confidence, and power yet not not aggressively. Oh, please, please, let me be able to speak. Please let my voice be louder than a hoarse whisper that has to be repeated again and again. 

She sits on the bench and we start to talk. She is not there to tell me who the other guide is. She's there to meet someone to discuss ideas about art. I find out she does water color and is a tour guide at another one of the Smithsonian's art galleries. That's all I know about her. She asks if I'm an artist and then to see my work. I show her my website on my iPhone. She says highly complimentary things. I take a few photos of her.  She is Sarah Jorgenson. 

 

This is the first one. I tell her she reminds me of a favorite French actor whose name I can't remember. Sarah tells me that her mother is French. The actor's name is Éléonore Gosset-BernheimSee any resemblance? 

Now, let's get a bit freaky. I met Sarah at the entrance to the National Gallery of Art. I later found out - alright, alright, I checked her outline - that not only is she a painter, but is she also an art historian, and a fellow at the Smithsonian. Guess what? Her look alike Éléonore plays an art historian at the Louvre in L'Art du crime.

Which brings this plot back to its theme: coincidence or synchronicity? Did we meet by chance or are there larger forces at play? What an ageless question that is.

Merlin (yes, more AI) says that

"Synchronicity refers to the occurrence of events in a seemingly meaningful pattern or relationship, often resulting in a sense of coincidence or fate. It is the study of this phenomenon and is generally believed to involve a combination of casual and non-causal influences. Synchronicity can manifest in various forms, including shared experiences, déjà vu, and meaningful encounters. It is a concept that has drawn interest from psychology, philosophy, and spirituality alike and is often associated with the idea of the unity of all things and the interconnectedness of everything in the universe."

Here's an example. My close friend from graduate school at Duke and I had not seen each other for decades. Without consulting each other before hand, this is how we looked when we got together:

Is it mere coincidence? Or is it because we have similar tastes. 

Who knows? Who knows why we suddenly think of someone and they call or text us as we start to think of them. That's what Sarah did the day after as I was reviewing photos while stuck in a massive traffic jam headed home. Who knows why a certain song suddenly pops in your head and then you welcome into a welcome center where the song starts playing? 

Synchronicity is the notion that everything is connected and interdependent, that the very creation of art is in fact a collaboration of many factors beyond the control of the artist. The one control we have is how we react to those factors. 

One thing that came from checking out Sarah was a statement she had in her faculty profile asking why museum light is so bad. Guess what? I checked it out using DALL-E to critique photos I had taken of Rodin's The Thinker. Very warm colors making the bronze almost looking gold. So I decided to change the light from warm to cooler. Here's the result.

Le PenseurContemplation in Bronze: The Thinker SculptureDALL-E says "
This image is a striking representation of Rodin's "The Thinker," emphasizing the sculpture's reflective pose and the textured details of its casting. The lighting is particularly effective, highlighting the contours of the figure's muscled form and creating an interplay of light and shadow that adds depth and dimension."

Speak up, DALL-E! Render your critique of this image of Le Penseur. 

 

"This image is a striking representation of Rodin's "The Thinker," emphasizing the sculpture's reflective pose and the textured details of its casting. The lighting is particularly effective, highlighting the contours of the figure's muscled form and creating an interplay of light and shadow that adds depth and dimension.

 

The camera's close-up angle and focus point on the face and hands of the sculpture allow the viewer to engage directly with the subject's intense concentration. The reflective sheen on the bronze is captured with great clarity, showcasing the high level of craftsmanship in Rodin's work.

 

In the background, the cool blue hue from the window provides a soothing contrast to the warm tones of the sculpture, enhancing the overall aesthetic without distracting from the sculpture itself. The shallow depth of field ensures that "The Thinker" remains the focal point, although some viewers might appreciate a bit more sharpness in the background to provide context within the gallery.

 

The composition of the photograph is carefully considered, allowing the sculpture to dominate the frame and convey its physical and emotional gravity. It's a well-executed photograph that communicates the power and presence of this iconic work of art."

 

I know I am biased but I think this is one of the best images ever done of the Thinker.  Decide for yourself. Here is a link to Google Images of the Thinker at the National Gallery and one to all Google Images for the Thinker. Let me know what you think.

In closing let me thank Sara for the comment about museum lighting. Allow me to confer a new term on her: Art Ecologist.  It acknowledges her multifaceted approach to art, history, and scholarship while also suggesting a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of these fields. It highlight her expertise and contributions, and it may resonate with her passion for the arts and interdisciplinary exploration. As to how I define the Ecology of Art, stay tuned. That's the upcoming episode. For now, let me leave you with this portrait of Sarah, the Art Ecologist. 

Happy Trails until we meet again. The Odyssey continues. 

 

 


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