PELL LUCY: INTIMATELY ENTHRALLED
BY DEBORAH BARLOW
Some events in life don’t happen in the lane of the logical or the linear.
Like falling in love, sometimes at first sight.
Having a dream that then comes to pass.
Feeling an immediate connection to a particular city or landscape.
Developing a deeply intimate relationship with a creature from another species, conducted without a common language.
Deep intimacy can be experienced with objects as well. While some people view artifacts as inanimate and inert, others strongly disagree. Ask an artist about the force field that exists around certain works of art, and most will have plenty of stories to share with you. The Rothko Chapel in Houston, the Monets at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. And so many others.
Physicist Richard Feynman memorably described a burning log as an unfurling of the many years of sunlight stored in the wood. Art objects have energy stored inside as well. An artist invests hours bringing a work into form--envisioning, intentioning, decision making, mark making, reworking, honing all its parts into perfect balance. When it is completed, it offers itself to the viewer, its power ready to be unfurled.
It doesn’t happen effortlessly, that state of being intimately enthralled by a work of art. One common obstacle is feeling inadequately informed. Many people second-guess their responses or dismiss them as illegitimate. Meanwhile others have been so well schooled that they have disconnected from the personal experience of pure feeling.
Philosopher and art critic David Carrier recently addressed this dilemma. Asked to write about the work of painter Francesco Polenghi, Carrier made a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan. They began by looking at several paintings, then Polenghi talked about the years he lived in India and the spiritual dimensions of his work.
After a period of time, Carrier began to feel his critical self relax. “A strange, almost uncanny calm descended upon me and I found that I was totally still…I felt taken out of myself and totally at peace, as if all of my critical faculties had ceased to function. I felt exalted. Or should I say, Polenghi’s art made me feel exalted.”
Carrier places this unexpected experience in a larger context:
“The art critic is always split between a critical self, who watches and often censors reactions, and a receptive self, whose response to the art is unhampered by intellectual reflection. That double awareness is essential, for it opens up a space that makes dispassionate aesthetic discourse possible…Any art writer needs a critical self. But without also cultivating a receptive self, it’s impossible to understand why visual art matters.”
You don’t need to be an art critic to know that the more you look at art, the more attuned you become to the ways of visual language. And as Carrier points out, an increasingly educated eye is most potent when it can be blended with a raw, personal, feeling response.
Art is full of ambiguity. Our response is often undefined, unexpected and perplexing. Being willing to embrace the mystery—and to do so outside the domain of language—frees a viewer to experience the work without any explanation or validation. That personal response can frequently link directly to the thrill of being intimately enthralled.
Even in the digital format of this exhibit, the works included here are ready to unfurl their enchantments. It might be useful to just let a work choose you. Give it your time and your receptivity, then let it light you up.
“Francesco Polenghi, a painter whose unusual life course meant that his public career as an artist began only when he was in his late sixties, has died in his hometown of Milan, Italy, at the age of eighty-four, a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
--Artforum, November 23, 2020