But walking in the Museum, and really taking my time - I can't go without it being eye-opening. Of course, that's hardly novel - after all, that's what art is supposed to do. But even so, every time I'm amazed at just how deep down that thrill of really seeing something, really experiencing it can go. This time in particular I stood in front of a statue of Venus and was... not moved, not blown away... but intrigued, to really try and understand why this in particular was an example of the very paragon of female beauty. Her nose was aquiline and her forehead very high. She had neither high cheekbones or a sculpted chin - in fact, her face was rather more round than heart-shaped. Her breasts were small, and her thighs large... but still. But still. And I stood there and realized it's not her features that make her ideal, it's her grace. She is the embodiment of feminiity, not of beauty - beauty after all is fleeting. The most beautiful woman in the world will shortly be ordinary to anyone who sees her every day - but the ethereal poise and gracefulness of an effortlessly feminine woman is eternal, and never wears off, whether she be young or old. I ruminated on how that effortless femininity is missing from American culture - where our ideal of the female is vapid, awlkward, bony, trashy, like Paris Hilton. I sensed that Venus would have little to say to Ms. Hilton, though I can't also imagine that she would for a second imagine herself any man's inferior. She's perfectly feminine - not perfectly beautiful. And that's far more moving, and so impressive to capture in sculpture.
Too, there was a collection of French silver that was incroyable; called "la machine argent". A father and son were silversmiths to the French kings, and created incredibly lifelike pieces - bowls, center pieces, candelabras, with realistic game animals on them. La machines blended both the organic elements and the sculptural elements without compromising either - straight lines were immaculate and clean, while fruits, animals, vegetables were perfect down to the last detail. It made the sort of houseware you might find at even the highest end stores tawdry and pathetic by comparison. This was real beauty. Real, honest, beauty.
We also toured the signature collection at the moment - a large group of religious icons from the monastery of St. Catherine. The works were generally small portraits painted on wood, and highlighted with gold paint to reflect the divine nature of the subjects. There was a careful, Medieval formality to them all that was unchanging, though they were created hundreds of years apart. Each reached out to the viewer to impart some lesson, and so walking through the exhibit was like sticking one's head into a hundred classrooms to hear just a phrase of a professor's lecture - I absorbed far too much for any one thing to register, but far too little to understand any individual piece. Still, in contrast to all of them, there was an icon of the archangel Michael; his robes and wings had bold lines in gold paint slashed through, strong and straight - utterly different from the careful, unlined shading of all the rest of the portriature, and even of Michael himself. It's as if Michael's divinity was radiant and gentle like the other collected saints - his was dyanmic, violent, strong - a slash of glory, rather than an effulgent halo. Again, I stood there sort of gobsmacked. Well, that's a terrible word to describe the feeling of being mesmerized by art ... but I'm sure you've all experienced it and know what I mean - to stand, staring, unable to look away like a Neanderthal huddled around a campfire, staring into the flames...
I love the Getty. I must remember to go back more often - though I know that I won't. And then when I do again, it will be a Revalation again - and again - and again.