When I visited the museum this week I experienced a small heartbreak. I led a good friend to the Northwest gallery to show off "my" painting, the Carl Morris Untitled 1968. It wasn't there! In it's place was a whopping photorealistic floral with fantastic colors, very striking, but I didn't even look at the title or the artist--I just wanted my painting! I had been looking forward to seeing and sharing this piece, to having my love for it on display in front of my friend, to praising it before sympathetic ears, and it had been swept away by circumstances (into a dark vault I could not visit), even as the powers-that-be had promised it would be fixed in place.
Such pinings are silly. It's just a painting, right? But I felt loss...people loss. And as I write this I suddenly remember a conversation I had with the painter Carl Hall in 1984, as we looked at some pictures in a show at Willamette University where he was my teacher. I had asked him to help me understand some paintings that were obscure to me. "Paintings are people," he said.
At the time I thought he meant that they contain bits of the artist, that aspects of personality rub off in the work, or that you need to pretend that paintings are people so that you can behold them as individuals without the judgement of comparison. But with this recent experience I wonder if he didn't mean something deeper. The sensation of loss I had, of disappointment, was a human response, the kind I would have had if I had lost another human being, as if a friend suddenly disappeared without notice.
I admit this with some embarrassment, as it seems full of drama, especially when I normally view the whole process of art coming into the world from the point of view of one who makes it. But I would not feel this way about a familiar mass-produced object that disappeared from the landscape.
As art involves magic, attempting portals through which willing participants can pass to transformed states of being, its potential may be more powerful than I thought. Instead of merely evoking love; it might create it.