ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.
To a young and sensitive child, artistically inclined, a trip to the dramatically beautiful John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the stuff of dreams. Recently a docent who works there shared with me an unusual experience she had while giving a tour. She had taken her group, which included a thirteen year old boy visiting the museum with his parents for the first time, through the elegant unfolding of exquisite and ornate rooms that comprise the Renaissance, Old Master, Baroque and Modern painting galleries.
“This young boy caught my attention right away,” the docent told me. “His eyes sparkled with intelligence and his excitement was contagious. I usually pose questions to the group as we walk through the galleries, as a way to explore the collection further. That boy, Michael, was always the first to answer them. “
Michael liked Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg as Saint Jerome.” When the docent asked the group to find the decorative element that appeared in both this painting and the gallery, Michael quickly pointed to the mermaid chandelier with the antlers overhead.
When the docent asked the group which painting best embodies the Renaissance ideals of harmony, symmetry and perspective, as shown through architecture? Michael gestured animatedly towards Piero di Cosimo’s “The Building of a Palace,” where the two wings of the building are identical.
When the docent explained the concept of “vanitas” (painted images symbolizing the transience of life, pleasure and inevitability of death) and asked which elements symbolize a transition from one state to another in “Still life with Parrots” by Jan Davidsz de Heem? Michael immediately pointed to the falling lemon peel and upended platter of food spilling to the floor.
The museum’s elegant loggia similarly inspired Michael, who noticed and wondered why the antique columns lining the garden courtyard were of different sizes. “The Ringlings shipped them back from Italy to be incorporated into the museum in some to-be-determined manner,” the docent explained. Michael was fascinated by how this was eventually done: designing bases of different heights and connecting them by arches on top, both of which allowed the columns to balance out their discrepancies and look the same at first glance.
It wasn’t just the docent who was surprised and impressed by the enthusiasm and intelligence of such a young boy. As the tour continued, the docent noticed that the group began to wait and see what Michael would say and where he would point, as if their own appreciation was amplified by witnessing Michael’s curiosity and genuine interest. In this way, the group not only had the pleasure of viewing the art collection, but was also reminded of why people visit museums in the first place: to feel the excitement, pleasure and sense of discovery that Michael did while looking at art and learning about it.
After the tour came to an end, Michael approached the docent by himself. “Thank you so much for such an interesting tour. I’ll never forget it.”
“Thank you for being such an important part of it,” the docent replied, moved by both Michael’s manners and earnest comments. “Have a good life, Michael; I’m sure you will,” the docent added, looking into the clear eyes of someone who was well on his way.