A few months ago, gazing at a stream of political squabbling on my Facebook feed—some of it my own fault—I decided to do something different. Having recently been to one of the local art museums here in San Francisco, I decided that since most days I arrive early to work, I would start each day by selecting a piece of art to post on my Facebook wall. So I started.
It began with a few favorite pieces from the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, such as a painting by Rockwell Kent of the Northeast coast and a pair of portraits by Georges de la Tour. From there I also posted some art related to projects I was working on, such as the Ecce Homo (above) painted by St. Albert Chmielowski (used as part of the design for the DVD release of Our God’s Brother) and a picture of the crucifix by an unknown artist that hangs in our office.
From there things went off into tangents. Remembering some copies of Japanese prints that Vincent Van Gogh painted led back to Japanese woodblock prints and then to the work of Helen Hyde, an American who traveled to Japan to learn the painstaking method for herself. And then back to the United States for works by American artists influenced by both the European and the Japanese print artists.
Thinking about the use of color in the block prints led back thinking about color in painting, and the remarkable depiction of light by the African-American master Henry Ossawa Tanner. Other unique color stylists followed: Mikhail Vrubel, who tried to make his colors resemble the iridescence of metals and seashells; Arkhip Kuindzhi, whose landscapes embrace a hyper-saturated palette; Zinaida Serebriakova, whose self-portrait resembles an Instagram selfie—but predates it by a century.
The posts have also prompted a number of fascinating discussions about art, color, method, and more. After posting a Winslow Homer painting, my grandmother chimed in to tell me she painted a Homer copy back in the 1950s, and my aunt followed up by posting a snapshot of Grandma Betty’s painting, seen just above. A post of a Robert Henri painting led to a discussion of American culture and the arts during the 20th century, including a link to a Disney short from the 1950s showing how “4 Artists Paint 1 Tree”.
I haven’t had a miraculous break-through during this collection and sharing of art; no profound moments where I received great wisdom to pass along to readers. But it has reminded me that art is necessary. We need these pictures and sculptures as we need food, as we need music, as we need drink, as we need literature. It is part of what makes us human, and that’s why we crave to make art and to look at, read, or listen to art. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, we are “not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”