The Artist’s Way: Week 5- Possibility

Published March 2, 2014 by Susan Woodward



So for this week’s Artist’s Date, I spent the afternoon at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery (MAG to Rochesterians).   I was excited to learn that there was to be a concert on the Italian Baroque Organ because I LOVE how the music echoes off the marble walls and fills the place.

Today we were treated to a concert played by Ivan Sarajishvili of Norway who is a doctoral candidate at the Eastman  School of Music.

photo 3_1 photo 2_1 photo 1_1

This is the Baroque Organ, complete with a couple of detail shots.

However, I really want to share something that happened in the Gianniny Gallery of European Art (1600-1700).

I’d been going through the entire museum waiting for something to grab my attention that might have something to do with this week’s theme of Recovering a Sense of Possibility.  One of the exercises from this week is to examine the following question:  Am I self-destructive?  Do I avoid my creative self, hiding behind all the other things I convince myself that I SHOULD be doing so as to not look selfish when I really want to do things for my soul-self?  I do admit to shying away from what I have been told are great ideas because I am afraid that the result of the idea won’t be as great as I hope.  I give people a synopsis of my book ideas, and they say, “Wow!  I’d read that!” but I have yet to complete the novels.  I want to…but I get held back.  That was part of my reason for wanting to join the ladies in our group with following The Artist’s Way.

So back to the Art Gallery.

Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched?  We all have, right?  Isn’t it a creepy feeling, especially when you look around to see who’s there and there’s nobody in sight?

That’s how I felt in the Gianniny Gallery today.  I was looking at the paintings one by one, and I had the feeling that someone was staring at me.  I even walked into the next room to see if anyone was lurking, but anyone who was around seemed to be absorbed in their own art-viewing.  So I went back to the gallery to continue…and I felt it again.  It was then that I noticed that as I walked past a portrait, the eyes seemed to follow me.  I first noticed it with Portrait of Eva Bicker by Dirck van Santvoort.  I backed up till I was on the right of the painting, noticing that the eyes seemed to look into mine.  As I locked eyes with the portrait and moved slowly across to the left side, the eyes seemed to move with me!

And then the freaky part happened.

This particular gallery is filled with mostly portraits, unlike the other rooms at the museum.  As I walked through the room, EVERY portrait was looking at me.  I stood in the center of the room, and each time I turned, the pictures locked eyes with me.  I moved to another part of the room, and the same thing happened.  I tried another part, and again, I got the staring contest from every single portrait.  It was beginning to really creep me out.  I took out my iPad to start taking pictures to prove I wasn’t insane.

Rembrandt Portrait of a Young Man in an Armchair

Here is Portrait of a Young Man in an Armchair by Rembrandt.  This painting was in one corner of the room.  I took the first picture while standing on the left of the painting, the second standing front on, and then last from the right side.  In each case, the eyes are looking at me.

You will see the same in all of the following:

Maes Portrait of a GentlemanMaes, Portrait of a Gentleman

de Vos Portrait of a Young Man with a Dog

De Vos, Portrait of a Young Man with a Dog

de Bray Child With Cherriesde Bray’s Child With Cherries

I zoomed in on the faces of the paintings to prove my point.  I know that I had seen this phenomenon before in other pictures/paintings.  This was different, though, because it was on all four walls and it was happening with EVERY SINGLE one of them!   Paintings done by Dutch and Flemish artists in the 1600’s all converged in one room at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery to stare at me in 2014.   How freaking freaky is that?

We have all had the uneasy feeling when all eyes are on us.  It’s where stage fright stems from… or paranoia.  Sometimes being the center of attention is exhilarating, like when I am really in the zone on stage, or when I know that I am delivering an effective lesson in class.  I know it’s a good thing because all eyes are on me.

Then there are those times of discomfort when I feel like all eyes are on me, but they most likely aren’t.  Like when I know I have a stain on my shirt.  Or when I say/do something stupid.  Those are my paranoid times.

So what was the deal with today?

I did an experiment at the gallery.  There was another couple in the room, so I asked if they would mind each standing in a different spot while I stood in a third spot.  I said, “Ok…let’s all look at the Rembrandt.  Is he looking at you?”  They both said yes…even though both were in different parts of the room.  All that while he was most definitely looking at me!  We repeated the experiment with portraits from all four walls.

It would be the same if there were three, ten, fifty, or even one hundred people in the room.  Every single person would be able to say that every single portrait in that room was looking directly at him or her at the exact moment that the paintings would be looking at everyone else.

Is that not freaky?  How can not only one, but many inanimate objects be “looking” directly at one hundred people all at the same time?

I even made a video of the phenomenon… It was like being at Hogwarts!

So what does all of this have ANYTHING to do with possibilities?

Maybe part of my fear to complete my novels is because I am afraid of other people’s scrutiny.  I certainly did feel extremely uncomfortable in the gallery.  However, with the fact the everyone else in the room (well, the two others I asked to help me out with the experiment anyway) were also “under scrutiny” by the same portraits made me realize that while I may be feeling paranoid that I am the center of attention, it’s really not so.  I had the feeling of being stared at, but those people had the same creepy feeling (once I pointed it out to them) that I did.  We ALL felt like all eyes were on us when, in fact, it was only an illusion.  Just like we delude ourselves into thinking that EVERYONE sees and judges everything we do.  Because the discomfort of having other people’s attention can be very strong, especially when it comes to something I have created, I tend to shy away from sharing it.  I give overviews, but when when someone wants to see what I have written, I avoid it. 

Maybe those faces from nearly 400 years ago are looking at me as if to say, “Hey, what if Rembrandt (or any of the other artists) decided that he didn’t want to share us?  Where would WE be then, huh?  Get over yourself and just do it already!”

Well, maybe that’s not exactly what they may have said, but I think I get the point.  I have to stop being self-destructive with my own creativity.  I have to stop destroying my work before it’s even completed by keeping busy with other things.  Okay, then.

I have posted a bit of one of my novels, The Red Brick Road, on this page, but I stopped because I began to get self-conscious until it is finished.  I feel that there is so much that I need to do to make it better, and so I keep it all to myself.  I do have the 50,000 words from the NaNoWriMo, but I have to finish editing them.

I just have to get over the uneasiness I feel when I share something…

It’s possible.

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