It takes a pro to photograph a painting. Neither my little Kodak EasyShare™ nor my amateur self are up to the task of capturing color, eliminating glare, correcting for parallax or even getting the focus right. But here’s a little close-up I took of a Renoir where the glare from the gallery lights — usually my nemesis — works to my advantage:
The sparkles of light exaggerate the brush strokes so you can really get a feeling for how Renoir smacked this canvas around. It’s called “View of Bougival,” in some places, like this New York Times article. But the frame carries the title “La Grenouillère” which I like better because it means “The Frog Pond.” Frogs trump Bougival every time, and you can quote me.
The NYT article includes a photo of the entire painting, so you can see my close-up detail in context. If you decide to go there and you actually read the review (of a Renoir exhibit from last year), I would kindly beg of you to have mercy on the writer, Roberta Smith. The piece abounds with clauses like “Less interested than Monet in surface coherence or underlying infrastructure…,” It’s tempting to smirk at that sort of art-educationese, but play fair, kids: art is just plain hard to write about.
No, not hard, impossible. When an artist makes a painting and you view it years or centuries later, an encounter takes place between you and the artist as solid as a handshake. The encounter that occurs between a writer and a reader is no less solid, but it’s so different from the painting experience that something inevitably is lost in the translation. Think of how descriptions of romantic love by previous generations sound so goofy to us today, and how future generations in their turn will laugh themselves silly at our attempts. Same with painting. If you don’t believe me, try reading Ruskin.
So don’t pick on the art writer. She’s doing her best.