Thursday, August 31, 2006

A quick visit with Las Meninas

One of my favorite personal blogs is 327 Market, which I seem to recall having learned of via Ariel's blog, Bittersweet Life. The writer may or may not be named Camille, but for convenience's sake we'll assume it is. She lives and teaches art and publishes her own work in a place that in some way corresponds to the Bay Area but to which she's assigned her own place names. And she often includes marvelous pictures that she or friends of hers have taken. There's a whimsical, urban-fairy-tale-like quality to the world her blog documents that keeps me visiting and reading.

Context, context. Sorry. But way DOES lead on to way.

This morning I came across her most recent post, in which she describes the circumstances surrounding the accompanying picture. I'll not rehash all that; go read the whole thing, as we say here on the Internets. But what follows is most of my comment that I left there.

I'll believe that you didn't plan it. The thing about Art, though, is that when the artist sees something in his/her work that wasn't planned but it improves the composition, s/he has the good sense to leave it in. It's harder to say this about Las Meninas (or painting in general) because of the medium, but it occurs to me now that the same rule applies--and that Velázquez is even commenting on it in his painting. On the left, the painter himself, palette and brush in hand, gazing at us with his critical, calculating painter's eye at the no-doubt-stiffly-sitting King and Queen . . . balanced on the far right by the little girl doing something I'm pretty sure she's NOT been asked to do.

There's more to say, of course, about the geometric connotations of that word "calculating," and some have done so to such an extent that I don't feel the need to. Besides: I'm more the "oh, look at the pretty picture!!" sort of viewer, anyway. So I'll just conclude this not-terribly-profound post by saying something else equally-lacking in profundity: Sure: Velázquez probably used grail geometry as a way of arranging the figures in this painting; so also, probably, did Vermeer. But, you know, so also, probably, did any number of Baroque-era painters, along with any number of poets of the time, along with Shakespeare and Donne and others you could find in your friendly neighborhood Norton Anthology, who wrote sonnets. To which I can only say, those features, those calculating frames are not why we keep looking at/reading certain people's work. There is something else, another sort of calculating, that exists beyond angles and rhyme schemes, the sort of sensibility that can see, in real life, a little girl's casual act of stepping on a dog and say, "That's going into a painting"--and then make it feel in Art like the casual act it originally was.

(Side note that has nothing to do with the above: Curious, is it not, that Blogger's spellcheck feature flags "blog" as misspelled.)

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1 comment:

Camille said...

hey John,

thanks for the plug! I hadn't heard the term "grail geometry" before, so I checked out your link, and looked at the diagrams. They gave me instant deja vu of the diagrams my bonehead art school design teacher showed us with the intersections of the crosses and exes were indicated to be "points of power." Different epoch, same idea. Photographers know it as the "rule of thirds." I have the narcissistic inpsiration to do some "grail geometry" on my comics. :)