Reaching for Art Power

January 19, 2008


It’s next time again. I was gifted a great new idea for the Blog and I need your help to make this work. The idea is brilliant. Sometimes you go to a really great dinner party where you meet really smart and charming new people. The conversation is thrilling and is somehow more satisfying than even the best food. You leave feeling smarter and genuinely nourished. Haven’t we all wished to be a fly on the wall at the Café de Flore in Paris when Sartre, Hemingway or Capote was hanging out or to have been a guest at one of the great salons in Europe where great minds mingled together to knock around great ideas? Well, this is what a Blog ought to be; a place for new ideas and provocations. Well the genius of this idea for my Blog is that the people, like you, who are most likely to read this thing, are genuinely fascinating people. Hundreds of them. All over the world. So the plan is to generate some sparks with discussions about art and music and film and ideas and to make this a really fun place for you to find some interesting ideas and write a comment or two to share your devastating brilliance with the rest of us.

Against the advice of the gifter of this great idea I am going to start with a really esoteric topic, one with which I am genuinely struggling. The gifter and I discussed this idea briefly and it was deemed too complicated and too convoluted, especially for this first small step on this new alien landscape of the blogosphere. He suggested sheepishly that I might blog about the recent well-publicized poll about how everybody hates clowns. We all agree on this. What is there to discuss? But a greater mind than even his said, “Follow your bliss.” So I’m goin’ for it and trust me, you can handle this.

Note: The blog went up over the weekend and there are already fascinating comments posted, most are better than the entry itself, which is just what I was hoping would happen. Check out Marcie Bergman’s (she is the head of the Cleveland Arts Prize). Dana Ivey (the Tony nominated Broadway actress) takes the discussion to sculpture. Steven Fong (former dean of Architecture at Kent State Univ.) takes it to Architecture. John Ziegler (Construction Project Manager for the massive Whitman College complex at Princeton University) takes the discussion to hockey. Bob Woods, the founder of Telarc Records takes the discussion digital with some really profound insight. Sarah Gridley, the Poet in Residence at Case Western Reserve University, takes the discussion to her own hugely sophisticated and transcendent “other.” What is so impressive to me in everyones responses is the sincerity of thought and feeling! It is really powerful. To get in on this just click over on the comments box on someone’s name and then you access the comments page – which also includes the original blog entry – to contribute your genius gems.

I write this filled with fear, because an art curator who read the first self-serving entry on this blog bravely said, “Nice job but keep it short.” Eeeeeek! Easy to say, really tough to do. I wonder which of you will have the guts to say, “Make it longer!” I bet nobody, which is the genius of her tough love admonition.

So here goes. Ahem. There is a pre-Renaissance artist who is no one’s favorite. Poor guy. This pioneer gets two paltry slides in any survey course and gets immediately forgotten in the wake of Botticelli and Mantegna. So, when Catherine suggested, on this last Italian trip, that we make the trek to Ferrara to the Palazzo Diamante to see the show on Cosmè Tura, I was less than excited. However, the Palazzo Diamante always has wonderful exhibitions and I invariably push back from the table of their exhibitions feeling sated and delighted with what their curators serve. What I don’t know about Cosmè Tura is huge so I got onto the Web Gallery of Art (which had the best selection I could find of his stuff.) Check out this link with the fancy name: Cosmè Tura Miscellaneous polyptychs!

I did my homework and got even less excited about seeing his work. Cosmè Tura is a Northern influenced Italian painter (1430-1495) from – duh! Ferarra, and the people in his paintings have boney hands and feet and there is sort of a Durer graphic quality to the work but it doesn’t make you sing or dance or shriek in abject joy. I saw all his masterworks on the big color computer monitor and I was sorta bored.

On the train, sitting next to Tudy, (see blog entry Dec 2007) she showed me black and white photos of his and other Ferrarese painters from a cherished and well-thumbed 1930’s era blue cloth-covered hardback. All the plates were in black and white. She said the great art historian and connoisseur, Bernard Berenson told her to always study Black and White reproductions – that they were somehow better than color. I shrugged and thought this was antique advice from the era when color printing was often cockeyed. Her observation, however, is dead on point.

Well, if you’ve been paying attention, now is where you expect me to tell you how devastatingly overpowering this show was and how important this artist has become for me.Well you have a surprise coming.He did not bowl me over with some giant masterpiece.He instead snuck in the back door of my heart with a charming little painting 30% smaller than the cover of a Time magazine. The best thing I ever read about Cosmè Tura was that he was “a man of the Renaissance but the ingredients of his taste were still medieval.” His temperament was described as “Dynamism, even violence, combined with almost feminine sentimentality.”

This was the image and, in reproduction, it is totally underwhelming. Look again. See her wonderful hands. Really look at them and isolate them from the composition. The blacks in the painting reproduce without any of the gloomy charm of the original. But then take another look at the star of the show down there! When was the last time you saw a baby Jesus in that particular pose? Hysterical! What the hell is doing? He looks like he’s posing for Playgirl or something naughty. He cracks me up!

The whole thing, in reproduction, is dull and lifeless and an excuse to yawn. In person, like so many things in life and art, it is a completely transcendent “other.” This small painting is you-had–to-be-there drop dead gorgeous. So, dear reader, what is it about the actual object that gives it such gravitas and power?

Well, you cluck, this is an old and tired question. This is so obvious! But is it really? High definition video of this image would have come a lot closer to impressing you with its power than a photograph. Would it have been the same as the original? Of course not, but would it have done the job more thoroughly? I think the obvious answer is yes. So what’s the deal? Is it a question of digital and other kinds of information?

I come to find out, through a lecture by dear friend and former head of Art History at Case Western Reserve University, Harvey Buchanan, that the entire joint program of the University and the Cleveland Museum of Art was in a way built upon this sort of self evident idea; the study of art is hugely impacted by the study of the objects themselves. Well DUH! He and the great Asian Art scholar Sherman Lee (who Harvey explained was the first PhD in Art History from Case Western Reserve!) started the joint program 40 years ago inspired by this simple/stupid/complex/profound idea. In subsequent discussion with the new head of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Timothy Rub, he explained to me that there are entire new schools of Art History who don’t study the objects at all! Whaaaa? How is that even possible? Well, Dr. Rub explained, they study the sociology, the gender conflicts, the deconstructed meanings, the conceptual frameworks, and the actual experience of the object itself is not the overarching focus anymore. This came as a total shock and seemed as unlikely and counter intuitive as a deaf man composing great music, which we all know is impossible.

So, my question to you is, What is it about the actual object of art that contains such power? What is that power? Can it ever be effectively captured? (Remember that is sort of what I attempt to do for a living.) Is it some mystical mind force or concentrated essence of the artist, as is posited in Indian philosophy, that somehow resides in the object and is then mysteriously communicated to the viewer? Is it photographable, filmable, otherwise describable? This idea has huge implications for the study of Architecture. I now see the coy genius of great Architects, whom I have interviewed, who hedge their bets telling me in a qualifying tone about this or that design, “But, I have not actually been inside that space . . . time will tell.” The space in Architecture, of course, being equivalent to the actual object, the actual experience of the “art.”

Don’t be shy. Don’t fumble around and put this off. Post a comment and give me, and everyone else, the benefit of your insight. Tell us about some object you saw, or own, or that changed your life and what you think is the true source of its power? What is it specifically about the object that a reproduction cannot capture? I hope you will post a comment or an insight. Or – maybe I should just stop reaching beyond my grasp and send in the clowns!

Until next time, I remain, your,




  • Juan Bastos says:

    Dear Tom,

    A second thought after my Venetian choice a few days ago. As a portrait painter, what I want to achieve every time that I do a portrait, is to create the illusion of life in a two dimensional surface. Walking thorough art galleries and seeing the great portraits of all time, one gets the feeling that one knows these people. In addition, the ingredients to be entranced by a portrait, I feel, are;

    a gifted artist
    an interesting subject

    and of course what one brings to the table! meaning, your own perceptions of what moves you. One can compare the likeness of the portrait,for example, to a familiar face or perhaps one remembers the portrait the first time one saw it and there’s the association with a circumstance, visit or a person. The feelings that go with this experience, makes it a memorable impression. Velazquez’s Juan de Pareja at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an old friend. It’s not an ambitious large canvas. It doesn’t depict a king or a Pope..actually it’s the portrait of Velazquez’s slave, who obtained his freedom thanks to the artist. Velazquez’s portrait depicts humanity, regardless of class or wealth. No jewelry, just gorgeous brush strokes, depth, feelings and dignity. Every time that I go to New York, I just have to pay my respects to this amazing portrait.



  • Jane Bredendick says:

    Just look what you started, Bro! At the risk of sounding like a female version of Beavis, I’ll post a reply. I burst into tears when I saw the real David. Others have already posted so well on this subject… I want to go back to your original comment about laughing at the pose of the Baby Jesus. Look up at the Madonna’s expression–it cracks me up! If you physically (right now in front of your computer)try to replicate her pose with the drumming fingertips and slight sneer, you can feel something. You gotta wonder what powerful thing she was plotting. Not the typical adoring mother indeed! What would you do with a kid like that? Wouldn’t it make a great story? Can’t wait to read your next inspiration.

    Jane is my brilliant little sister, teaches Children’s Theatre and serves “on countless community boards promoting humanities.” – TB

  • serenissima says:

    Dear Tom, I remember us having dinner in Venice, in the Antico Martini, talking about the architect Codusi who you like a lot – unfortunately, people like you are becoming more endangered than pandas. Venice is now haunted by people who come to Venice and ask, in the hotel near the Rialto: What is the name of this famous bridge? I can’t even begin to talk about what is happening now in Venice during carnival – If you want to know the truth: have a look on my blog: – so if I would have any power, I would say: I only want people like Tom Ball coming to Venice. And Catherine. Of course. Complimenti for your elegance, baci ed abbracci, Petra

    Petra Reski is a prize winning novelist. She also writes regularly as a journalist. Her blog is hysterical, however – vorsicht bitte – it is for those of you who sprechen sie Deustch. – TB
    Sie schreibt Reportagen für DIE ZEIT, GEO, GEOsaison, Focus, Merian, Brigitte, Du, Das Magazin, Sie+Er, Cicero, ist als Featureautorin für MDR, WDR, BR, Deutschlandfunk und Deutschlandradio tätig und hat mehrere Bücher geschrieben, zuletzt: „Der Italiener an meiner Seite“ (Droemer 2006)

  • Juan Bastos says:

    Dear Tom,

    Venice. No matter how many beautiful pictures, books, paintings, movies describe its beauty, only when one is there the true Venice experience awakens the senses. The inspiration that follows during and after can be the source for great art, romance, reflections, decisions, meditations and so on. It makes me feel like one is part of a magnificent installation, making you a piece of the puzzle of the whys, and the where’s and the how’s that one encounters through out the place….My first visit happened when I was an art student, traveling with a light backpack in mid-August of 87 with my cousin. The familiar place that I remembered from “Death In Venice” and “Don’t Look Now”, became real, on a late Summer evening taking the vaporetto that took us to the Pensione Accademia. The experience was so overwhelming, that I vividly have the colors and light recorded in my mind. I took some pictures, and all of them were terrible, even though I am a decent photographer. There was no comparison to the real thing. Years later, in the late Fall of 99, my second visit took place.Older, wiser, and having seen more of the world, the affirmation that this was a magical place was still there. The city also offered new treasures….(like meeting Catherine!), new friendships were created, and sharing the city with my partner Tom, was also part of the magic.

    Juan is a portrait painter who lives in Los Angeles – TB

  • Richard Gridley says:

    Since you and Catherine were the inspiration for so much of our recent stay in Venice, I’ll try to respond to your question in the context of that visit. From a week of constant viewing, what experiences stand out for the emotional connection they created? Why did they have that effect?

    My personal highlights:
    . The tiny Accademia room with half a dozen Bellini Madonnas, each a wonder of color, characterization and landscape, as well as Giorgione’s Tempest and Memling’s Young Man. Any one of these would qualify: together, the experience is extraordinary.
    . Titian’s Assumption in the Frari, dominating the building with its position, riotous color and energy. It’s as if the Virgin is being launched into outer space.
    . Carpaccio’s St George series in the Scuola San Giorgio. With his detail and narrative effectiveness, Carpaccio is my underrated star of Venetian painting.
    . Mosaics that rival Ravenna’s in the quiet Byzantine cathedral across the lagoon on Torcello.
    . The Jackson Pollock room at the Peggy Guggenheim.

    Why do these experiences happen? Straightforward reasons suggest why the actual object trumps the reproduction:
    . Technology has narrowed the gap between the actual object and the reproduction, but hasn’t eliminated it and won’t – indeed given today’s ease of digital image manipulation it is all the more important to see color, texture, materials and condition for oneself. Website access to museum collections doesn’t seem to reduce attendance.
    . Given the effort to go look, most of us simply tend to spend longer and concentrate more on what the artist is trying to achieve than if we were looking at reproductions.

    Why these particular works and not others?
    . Context is a major factor. Part of the fun is to learn how the work inherits and influences the art history of the period, and what it tells us about the politics of the time and how people then lived and thought. It may partly be the building where the work is located (Titian, Carpaccio, Torcello, and also having visited Pollock’s house in Easthampton). The experience may be of several works (all except the Titian), giving the chance to compare and contrast or follow a narrative. One of the charms of Venice is the omnipresence of these kinds of context.
    . Sometimes the subject itself is specially compelling, particularly when it’s a human figure (the Bellini Madonnas, or two portraits seen later in London trip – Bellini’s Doge Loredan and Millais’s Tennyson)
    . When Mike Hargrove reached CMA’s Pollock on his video tour, he simply said: “I like this. I don’t know why. But I really do”. In the end, it’s often as simple (and, to echo Sarah, spontaneous) as this. A few works just grab you at the moment you first see them, and that’s the great delight of this pursuit. Much else still commands interest and respect. I think of two gigantic Venice works, Veronese’s Christ in the House of Levi and Tintoretto’s Crucifixion, as truly spectacular technical achievements. I admire them, but the experience was of a lesser order.

    Thank you so much for all you did to prepare us for a wonderful week, and for asking us to be a part of this undertaking

    Richard worked as a senior consultant for McKinsey & Company and is an enthusiast and member of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Orchestra – TB

  • Steve Ellis says:

    Who would put something up after Gridley’s post? Not me – I’d feel like Beavis.

  • What is it about the actual object of art that contains such power? What is that power?

    Ciao, Tomaso. I am now reading a wonderful book of essays by poet Gustaf Sobin called Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc. “Vestige” in this context refers to archaeological artifacts, but the term, in Sobin’s repeated approaches to it, vectors in the directions of architecture, psychology, etymology, etc. A sampling:

    Faced with so much abundance, so much fruit and flower and golden, lichen-struck limestone, it’s difficult to believe that this world conceals yet another beneath. That the lateral plane of our perceptions, in all its magnitude, keeps us from a deeper, more arcane set of cognitions below. That a vertical reading might indeed be possible.

    There’s a need today, perhaps as never before, to reestablish contact with that verticality: to feel ourselves rooted, not merely to the past in general but to our own specific moment within the past’s tiered continuum. There is a need, in short, to situate ourselves in regard to our own evolving. . . . We need to feel . . . that we, the living, are continuously accompanied by the presence, no matter how remote, of predecessors. That we’re not, finally, alone.

    I love this idea of “vertical reading”—and I think it is my answer to your question about the power inherent in the “actual object of art.” Reproductions don’t give us that delicious sense of vertigo, do they? That sense of attending to the “buried” act of initial attendance? The “actual” object is what remains of what poet Charles Simic calls “presence in the present tense”—what puts us back in touch with that presence. I am intrigued by your use of the word actual, which means, as we all know, but too often forget, pertaining to an action. So a meditation on an actual work of art is a kind of mental excavation of the artwork, a getting past the “pertaining to action” in the actual, and an imaginative recuperating of the action itself, that weird, indivisible fusion of the kinesthetic/aesthetic. When we look at a Pollack, that’s obvious, our own bodies readily “incorporate” the inaugurating gestures.

    The verb “act” comes from agere: to do, set in motion, drive, urge, chase, stir up. So the “actual” work of art “pertains” to all those energies.

    Vestige. A mark, trace, sign, footprint. The hand that loaded the brush. The eye took the measure of the joist.

    What is “voice” in poetry? The displacement into trace of live vocalization: a sound “recorded” in diction, syntax, patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. To read a poem is to climb down the semantic ladder into something like, but not identical to, actual vocalization. In Rilke’s memory of the phonograph, it is the coding of voice, its “imprint” on the cylinder, that interests him more than the sound itself:

    It must have been when I was a boy at school that the phonograph was invented…Each time the effect was complete. Our class was not exactly one of the quietest, and there can have been few moments in its history when it had been able as a body to achieve such a degree of silence. The phenomenon, on every repetition of it, remained astonishing, indeed positively staggering. We were confronting, as it were, a new and infinitely delicate point in the texture of reality, from which something far greater than ourselves, yet indescribably immature, seemed to be appealing to us as if seeking help. At the time and all through the intervening years I believed that that independent sound, taken from us and preserved outside us, would be unforgettable. That it turned out otherwise is the cause of my writing the present account. As will be seen, what impressed itself on my memory most deeply was not the sound from the funnel but the markings traced on the cylinder…

    from “Primal Sound” (1919)

    So our technologies—photography, sound recordings, digitalization, etc.—do they divorce us from “the act itself,” or trace different paths to it? I don’t know. On questions of perception, my dude is Maurice Merleau-Ponty:

    We may think of the sensing body as a kind of open circuit that completes itself only in things, and in the world. The differentiation of my senses, as well as their spontaneous convergence in the world at large, ensures that I am a being destined for relationship: it is primarily through my engagement with what is not me that I effect the integration of my senses, and thereby my experience of my own unity and coherence.”

    —Maurice Merleau-Ponty

    For me the word “spontaneous” is key. Perhaps that’s what gets lost in the photographic reproduction, the sensation of spontaneity—the spontaneity of sensation? Certainly there’s nothing spontaneous in the markings on a phonograph cylinder: the markings are the codification of sound, not its turning loose. But in writing I think of “the markings” more as “markers”—as signs standing in for, redeemable for the actual. Perhaps that was Rilke’s fascination with the technology above and beyond the sound it produced? Not what it reproduced (voice), but how it was able to do so?

    Sarah Gridley is the Poet in Residence at Case Western Reserve University – TB

  • Jeff Gates says:

    Many people here on this blog have talked about learning, from a teacher, from art, from music, etc. Now let me tell you about a teacher that I met. He is a trusting soul with the gift of gab. He loves the arts and drinks fancy Italian water. But, in the time I have gotten to know him over the last year, he has taught me much about taking the time to read, look, think and write things down. Not that I don’t do that occasionally, but not in the artful way he does. I usually am on the side of mechanics. When I listen to music I like to focus on one melodic line, not on the whole. When I look at art I focus on the painter’s stroke and technique, not the beauty of his thought. I am rather impatient, yet this teacher has taught me to slow down. Hopefully our collaboration on new projects in the future will force me to look at his technique. His last name is Ball.

    Jeff Gates is an Audio Engineer, Sound Designer and Dolby 5.1 specialist – TB

  • Interesting topic, Tom. I’ve been pondering it for the past week and those thoughts are infinitely more productive than what normally is on my mind. So here goes…
    I keep on thinking about a short story I read long ago by Jorge Luis Borge. It concerned a pair of elegant dueling sabres that had a strange power over people. Over the course of centuries, these “inanimate” adversaries somehow compelled their owners to draw blood. In effect, they had a life of their own. Not far fetched when you think about the legacy of some antiquities and treasures from the past.
    I believe that “things” can possess a kind of spirit, especially things that have been created with great effort and passion. One of my favorite museums is The American Folk Art Museum next to MOMA. One spectacular work is by a reclusive janitor named Henry Darger. For over 50 years, Henry lived in a one-room apartment in Chicago, went to his cleaning job, then returned and created a monumental fantasy world on hundreds of rolls of newsprint paper. What he created cannot be separated from the reams of paper that revealed his world. It is the world.
    Lastly, I think Ovid got it right in his Metamorphoses. When the artist breathes life into the work, it transcends theory and intellect and resides in the heart.

    Robert Clancey works in Advertising and is a part time painter – TB

  • Dan Bays says:

    I have only worked with Tom for a brief time, but unfortunately I have a confession to make. I have no taste for the visual arts whatsoever. There I said it. I have viewed the pictures on his computer, seen the art in his office, and listened to him speak passionately about art and architecture, and I have to admit – my eyes glaze over and my mind wanders. I simply do not get it. A trip to the art museum is a total bore. Boy – that should make Monday morning meeting with Tom interesting.

    Wait! Stop! Don’t lynch me yet. Let me expose another concept to those of you to whom the visual arts bring such joy. I spent my college years studying classical guitar at a renowned conservatory of music. And my teacher was not only a brilliant player, but also a brilliant teacher. One of the concepts he exposed me to was the idea of systems of thought. Each of us has different modes in which we think, the three most basic of which are auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. When we imagine a picture we are thinking visually. When we hear a concerto in our heads we are thinking with the auditory part of our brains. And when we can picture a certain emotion or sensation we are using kinesthetic. While each of us think in all of these ways, but some of us have stronger or weaker systems for each, and we generally have a system that is dominant. In my case my visual system is almost non-existent. I can not even picture my own mother, and I often confuse people who appear very differently, but for some reason leave a similar emotional impression. My office mates find this amusing, and will sometimes ask me after being all day in the building with them, what color shirt am I wearing? Without looking again, I simply have no idea.

    On the other hand, I was enraptured when in high school I first visited my future college and heard a trumpeter rehearsing in the great concert hall. Shivers went down my spine, and I knew that was where I wanted to study.

    One of the reasons my teacher was so superb was that he was able to recognize which modes of thought his students relied on most. He would adapt his instruction accordingly with references that they would understand. It helped us to “Get it.” But he also tried to help us strengthen our other systems. For the people with a strong visual system, he would make them play blindfolded. And for those of us with strong auditory systems, he would detune the guitar and make us play to strengthen our kinesthetic and visual systems.

    Personally I think in sound, patterns, and sequences. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to computers. There is nothing more beautiful than a complex, ordered set of instructions that when put together – works!

    So if you had to pin me down on art . . . . Please do not cringe . . . It would have to be Escher. Your eyes follow the sequence of what appears at first glance to be a normal pencil sketch, but suddenly . . . Wait . . . That’s not possible. And your mind goes blank. And that in itself is sometimes a wonderful place to be.

    Dan is an IT guru and software designer – TB

  • Laura Bidwell says:

    Sometimes the sunlight in the room and the warm smell of the galleries seem as ancient and immediate as the art that you are viewing. Atmosphere and memory cannot be separated from the art experience.

    The people around you also influence your perceptions. When I came across Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei for the first time, with its tightly trussed feet, I was completely, unexpectedly overcome. As I stood there in a vast kind of silence, a man and his wife came up behind me. In a loud voice he said “Boy, that’s one way to keep your subject from moving! Who’s Agnes Day?” Right before the moment completely shattered, his wife whispered gently “It means Lamb of God.” The painting had worked it’s magic on two women that day.

    On a lighter note, the only David I have ever seen is the one at Caesar’s Palace and one should always walk backwards when approaching it in order not to see it.

    Tom, your enthusiasm for living (and thinking) is indeed infectious. I hope to catch whatever you’ve got.

    Laura and her husband Fred have perhaps the best collection of contemporary photography I have ever seen. They have an upcoming show of their collection at the Akron Museum of Art – check out – TB

    Since I had never heard of the painting Laura mentions above I asked her about it. She writes back:

    Actually, I saw the Agnus Dei at the Guggenheim exhibition, “Spanish Painting From El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History”, a show with an unpromising title at a venue offering more than a little counterpoint.

    This part of the last paragraph from the November 22, 2006 New York Magazine review sums it up perfectly:

    “The most powerful moment of surreal disruption occurs at the very outset of the exhibit, near the bottom of the ramp, where the curators have hung Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei. The painting depicts a lamb, legs trussed, patiently awaiting the knife. A great work of religious art, this lamb of God, placed among browsers under the Guggenheim sky, looks as naked, exposed, and vulnerable as anything I’ve ever seen. It stopped me dead.” – Mark Stevens

  • Marcie Bergman says:

    Tom, thanks for including me in your blog. I love the idea. I have looked through your website with great interest and read almost every word. Most interesting. Sometime when we are together, I will respond with more cogent comments that would be too long for an email communication. As for your blog discussion….I think it is a very simple answer. Great art just speaks to you in a way that a reproduction doesn’t. I remember the first painting that made a difference in my life very clearly. I had seen the reproduction many times in a book we had in our house while growing up. Then one day I was walking in the Met and saw the painting. It stopped me cold and spoke to me. To this day, I don’t know why.
    My thoughts briefly are: this is not a universal, everyone responds differently, education helps, and great art just knocks your socks off. As Toby Lewis put it in your video, “Art changes your life.” While I don’t think it has to be the original object, I think that increases the experience tremendously. My thoughts for now. Have to produce some work! Arts Prize moves forward! much love. Marcie

    If you are in Cleveland on February 24, come to our Fundraiser at Nighttown. It should be terrific. Howie Smith, 1985 Arts Prize winner, saxophone player, will be in concert with Rock Wehrmann, pianist. Look at our website, for more info.

    P.S. I am so jealous of your discussion of travels to an exhibition in Italy ( on a blog entry) as I sit here freezing in Cleveland. What is wrong with my priorities?

    Marcie Bergman is the Executive Director of the Cleveland Arts Prize – TB

  • I have just two words to add:

    Maria Callas.

    Enough said? (Oops, that’s 4…!)

    Liesl is a lyric soprano who lives in Venice

  • Bob Woods says:

    Hello Tom.

    You may know that I have the attention span of a gnat except when I listen to music (provided the performance isn’t lame), so I am amazed that I actually read though all of what you wrote. However, I would much prefer conversations like this with people over dinner and wine as I don’t have to worry about seeing my B.S. in print later!

    Here are some random thoughts that went through my head while I was reading what you and your friends have written.

    –The longer I live the more I truly believe that art is to humanity as breath is to life.

    –We all perceive things differently, and I find more joy in my life when I realize I don’t need to have others share my point of view. [It took me more most of my life to get that one.]

    –Whatever I get from looking at a piece of art is priceless if it can tap into my emotional palate. I am also in awe of what knowledgeable art lovers/professionals/teachers can show me that I can’t see on my own.

    –I enjoyed what your friends have written and there is an interesting thread: you are well-liked and we love the opportunity for our voice to be heard. You attract diversity like a magnet. [I sound like I’m sucking up to the teacher.]

    –Of course digital will never be as good as analog, but the higher the resolution–for visuals or audio–the more real things become. Two dimensional reproduction can’t help but feel flat.

    –Technology is a long way from being able to reproduce three dimensions, but what we (at Telarc) have been able to do in the audio realm in 3D tells me something clearly: emotional connection is clearly present in 3D that is not perceived in 2D.

    –How can anyone stand to listen to mp3/4 files?!

    I am sitting in a hotel room in Cincinnati between sessions and am having a bloody vertigo attack, so your blog has therefore been a welcome distraction. My apologies if what I’ve written is as dizzy as I feel!



    Bob is the co-founder of Telarc International Records the multi Grammy winning label that pioneered digital recording – TB

  • Steve Ellis says:

    I saw the David a few years ago and had nearly precisely the same reaction. Plus I couldn’t not stare at it- to the point where I exited by walking out backwards in order to not not see it. Watched the Cleveland Orchestra last weekend for The New World and during a couple of passage in the Largo, I and all of my guests teared up. And every couple of years I sing in a charity event and every so often we get the harmony just right and the hair on my neck goes up. I’m convinced all three events derive from tapping into to some primordial form of communcaiton that has long gone dormant. But we all feel it when it’s occasioanly triggered, and when it happens its alway immensely pleasurable. I suspect great art is every bit as simple and unknowable as being able to tap into how we humans can sometimes be virtual tuning forks for emotion. It must be that reproductions and lesser works are missing whatever the element is that completes the neurological circuit. Great stuff.

    Steve Ellis is a partner of Tucker Ellis & West and one of the smartest guys I know – TB

  • John Ziegler says:

    Here is the Cliff Note to my response…I cannot stand to watch ice hockey on TV for more than a couple of minutes, but to be at a game, especially next to the boards, for any level hockey game is awesome. The visceral nature of the experience cannot possibly be conveyed via TV, no matter how large the screen or how grand the surround sound.

    I have to admit to not being very knowledgable about Renaissance (including pre- and post-) art. Sure, I took art and architecture history classes in arch school (with two very energetic professors, Vernon Hodges and Harold Cooledge). I immensely enjoyed their classes but I could not get excited about a lot of the artwork itself, especially religious triptychs and the like.

    Of course, it was also true that I had not actually seen any of the pieces in person. It was almost like having someone describe a piece of music to me and expecting me to fall in love with it…
    At some point afterward I actually went to a museum or two and saw first-hand some of the artwork. Now I cannot say that I fell in love with it all, but my appreciation of it increased immensly.

    Mr. Bays talks about three ‘modes’ of learning…I seem to favor the visual and kinesthetic. I love music, but that is somehow different from my learning strength. I seem to have a tendency towards pattern recognition (in images, music, and actions), and I visualize in my mind’s eye animated graphic representations to non-graphic issues.

    The topic of artwork and its power is complex; most artwork relies to some extent on a knowledge and appreciation of a piece’s historical context. In other words, it is more than just a virtuosic artistic performance…the subject and the artist’s commentary/interpretation/message are as important as the artist’s craft. Even so, I am in awe of the craft of many artists, even if I cannot relate to the historical context.

    Lastly, I have also always enjoyed Escher, probably due to the combination of ‘trickery’ and constructions of the images. They really do induce a kind of Zen state of mind, pondering the impossible, transcending reality. Which is what a captivating piece of art really does, be it painting (visual), performance (kinesthetic), or music (auditory).

    John Ziegler is the Project Manager for the construction of the recently completed Whitman College dormitory complex at Princeton University. He is one of the stars of the new Telos documentary Extreme Visions, see “in production” on the Telos website – – TB

  • Steven Fong says:

    Dear Tom,
    Thank you for the note and the invitation to participate in your blog. What a great thing you are setting up! I am flattered that you have solicited me to be part of your extended conversation.
    I’ll try to stay in the geographic region (and within a century) of your inaugural entry about Cosmè Tura and his contraposto baby Jesus. More importantly, I’ll try to avoid sounding like a pedant.

    Palladio showed the Palazzo Barberini in his I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (published beginning in 1570). The plan and elevation selected for inclusion show an autonomous building with carefully proportioned spaces subject to the ordering principles of a rectilinear grid. Ottavio Bertotti Scamozzi’s plates of the same building, published some years later, documented the actual conditions – a building with a skewed façade, and a plan that had numerous concessions to the idiosyncrasies of the site (see my attached powerpoint).

    Even circa 1570 it was apparent that the audience for the architectural work was not just the user or even the visitor. Architecture was also a phenomenon with an independent existence as drawings, and enlisted to promote ideas. I will have to admit that these images were something I showed in a lecture last week, along with an equally provocative image of the Von Sternberg House in LosAngeles by Richard Neutra (the director Von Sternberg as well as Ayn Rand both lived in it, separately, for a while). In the images, which Neutra was preparing for publication, you can see his editing with a grease pencil – instructions for air brushing a column out of the zone of windows on the second floor. In the image with the pond, he grease penciled the reflection in the pond, but forgot about the actual elevation.

    So, photography, architecture magazines and the emergence of media culture (post WWII) have amplified a condition that was always present in architecture. As you can see, this is a topic for which I have tremendous enthusiasm. And, I would enjoy participation in your blog!
    Steven Fong

    Steven Fong is an architect, urban planner and academic. He is the former dean of the Kent Architecture school and is in private practice in Toronto. Please email me for a copy of his powerpoint – TB

  • Dana ivey says:

    When I saw the David in Florence it was like encountering a magic force. He seemed to be breathing. He seemed alive. The copy in the square didn’t affect me that way or seem to have life. And a Botticelli painting nearby had sparkles in the paint that I’ve never seen in a reproduction — it almost shimmered. SOMEthing is there — the life force of the artist impregnated into the work by his/her force of concentration? An template idea that touches some ancient knowledge that dwells in all of us? And that the artist was aware of and mirroring? But does someone from another culture, another archetypical ideology respond the same way? Or is what is represented beyond cultures? Does it represent a truth that all humanity can perceive? Seeing the David was my break-thru into this questioning.

    Dana Ivey is a Broadway actress with five Tony nominations who has not only just received an honorary doctorate from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, but she has also just been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. – TB

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