Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Art for Love

The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others
-Vincent Van Gogh

We spent our second day in NYC at the Brooklyn Museum. I had heard that was where the Annie Leibovitz exhibit--A Photographer's Life--was being shown. We must have spent a good hour and a half in the exhibit. The final room had two large beds in the middle of the floor and Chloe and Conor crashed on those with their books leaving me all the time I wanted to study the pictures.

The exhibit merged together Annie's two outputs, her professional and personal photographs, in forms that suited the material. Celebrity shots are slick, large format, flattering pieces, work that Annie is famous for. Her personal snapshots are shown en masse, much smaller individually, but as a collection powerful in scope. This is where you can see the pictures of Susan Sontag in her hospital bed, Annie's children, and the Leibovitz family portraits taken over several Thanksgivings down the road from here at her country house in Rhinebeck.

I had a crush on Susan Sontag for years. Her combination of piercing brilliance and courage, and her dark, soulful eyes was alluring. It's no wonder that Leibovitz fell in love with her, when you also consider the attention she paid to the art of photography. What moved me the most though in the show was the demonstration of that love throughout the course of illness and eventual death. I think it was more poignant for me against the beauty and vitality that Leibovitz herself had during this time and the beauty she was surrounded with in her work. What I wondered did she hold onto in Susan that kept her love alive all this time? Was she responding to her memories, or does Leibovitz have the muscle (and I think she must) to conjure up an active love, giving it away and creating a lasting beauty in her work. Descriptions of several of the photos (family portraits and the Cash family photos for instance), which quoted the subjects, say that Annie could be seen crying behind the lens while composing a shot.

This is an emotional exhibit, but not because you see a strong beautiful woman decline in health and looks. It's because you can see evidence of a love that few of us will ever feel and not having it, maybe we've convinced ourselves that it doesn't exist. The shock of discovering that it does can create an immeasurable sense of loss. We often think of art as coming out of unrequited love. As I read today in Nina's blog, The Lazy Geisha, her husband Jeff says that

“Desire is born in the gap between what we have and what we want, and it is in this gap where all art is made.”

I had believed that myself. I thought that love sickness was good for my poetry and that so much wonderful art has been born of this pain. But now, I wonder if this this isn't an adolescent idea and one that can be treacherous too. Think Oscar Wilde. Looking at Leibovitz's work, I now believe that true art, mature, lasting work can come from deep long-lasting love. The kind that produces individual growth, the kind that forces you to the point of enlightenment, because you stick with it until you're transformed. There's no flitting around here. This is hard work, heart-wrenching in its immoveable devotion to connections between people and their meaning to our lives and work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

dear Kim
the last paragraph is so beautiful. You have answered with those words so many things to me today. Thank you

your friend Graciella