Archive for January 7th, 2008

Tours by People Who Know Nothing

Hello, hello. Everyone. I guess I’m giving you a tour today. Of this painting. Here on the wall. Right. Let’s look at it up close. And now from far away. And up close again – look at the brush strokes! And now far away – see how it gets all blurry when we back out of the gallery? Try closing your left eye; and now your right – see how it goes in and out of focus when you squint? Okay, okay, no I don’t want you to get dizzy; you can all stand still now.

Let’s see, where to begin… So there’s some countryside – yeah, this looks pretty rural. Rolling hills, fields, a tiny little house over there in the distance. And cows. I see cows. What are they doing in there? Standing, facing forward… they appear to be making eye contact with the viewer… They have their mouths open. I wonder what they’re doing. Chewing? Do cows chew with their mouths open? Or maybe they’re baying at the moon? Yeah yeah you’re right. I think those yellow spots on the ground are supposed to make us think of this as a “sun-dappled” scene, not a moon-dappled one. Okay, so where does that leave us? With a herd of cows who are looking right at us, and baying at the sun.

Right.

So, what do you think it means? Oh, you want me to tell you what it means… Hmmm.

Could it be that this 19th century painter forsaw mad cow disease and did his best to convey this frightening possibility to 21st century viewers? This cow looks kind of mad to me – crazy mad, not angry mad. Or maybe in 1850 cows were capable of a broader range of expressions; maybe we’re seeing bovine emotions here that we simply don’t know how to interpret.

Yeah, I don’t have an answer for you. But isn’t that the point of good art? To ask questions and make you think? Let’s have a round of applause for art that leaves us confused, and understanding less about the world than we did before. All right, thank you for your time. Next week, our regular tour guide will be back from vacation and I’m sure you’ll hear a totally different interpretation of this painting.

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