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'Nude descending a staircase' criticized

The title of this article caught your attention didn't it? In 1912 a French artist named Marcel Duchamp created a bit of a stir with his painting "Nude Descending A Staircase." You can see the painting on the Internet, but you must understand the painting is considered a work of modern art. The "body parts" are conical and cylindrical elements in yellow ochres and browns arranged in such a way as to suggest rhythm and overlapping moving figures. The painting shows no specific body parts and gives no clue as to the age, sex, individuality or character of it's subject.

When the painting came out, it was rejected by the Paris gallery Salon des Independants. The following year, in 1913, it was shown at the Armory Show in New York and was considered scandalous. The painting was widely criticized by critics who were accustomed to naturalistic art. One critic writing for the New York Times said the painting should be called "Explosion in a Shingle Factory." It was probably the title that caused all the stink. The painting can be seen today as part of a permanent collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What I know about art, the art of painting and sculpture, wouldn't fill a thimble. (When is the last time you saw a thimble?) My dad had artistic talent but he passed it all along to my brother and none to me. I can just look and enjoy or not enjoy, understand or not understand. And wonder.

The reason we have art is that we all crave something beyond sweat and tears, making a living, growing old and dying. Something that makes us more than robots, computers, machines or smart dogs. John Paul Richter, the German humorist said "art is indeed not the bread but the wine of life." But what does it mean? Alfred Tonnelle wrote that "the artist does not see things as they are, but as he is." That means that if 10 artists painted the same object there would be 10 distinctive and different pictures of the same thing. That could explain a lot of art.

One painting we've all seen is "American Gothic" by Grant Wood. This is a painting of an older middle-aged couple. The man is bald, has glasses, wears a black dress jacket over a white shirt and a pair of bib overalls and he's holding a pitchfork. He looks determined. His wife has her hair parted in the middle and she's wearing a very businesslike black dress with a white collar and a brooch at the neck with what looks like an apron over the outfit. There is a barn or farmhouse in the background. You would recognize this pitchfork painting in a blink. Wood painted the gothic in 1930. If he didn't paint the couple as they were, but as he was, what was on his mind? This couple may have just returned from church to the hard, gritty life on a prairie farm during the depression. Is that what Wood intended? That's what I saw, you might see something else.

Andrew Wyeth, a great American painter, painted "Albert's Son" in 1959. The painting is of a boy, about 9 years old, standing with his arm up on a post looking out from a dark building, probably a barn. He looks off wistfully into the distance. Has he just lost his pet dog? Did his dad (Albert) die? Is he just lonely? Did the painting reflect Wyeth's mood or the boy's?

Go to the library and pull encyclopedia P then turn to "Painting." There you will find page after page of the work of artists portraying family closeness, fear, faith, gloom, joy, grief, landscapes, still life, the creation, heaven, hell, beauty, fun, geometric forms, random colors, all the shapes styles and vision of the imagination and all the faces and moods of mankind. They make us stop and look. Sometimes we have to finish the chores early so we have a few minutes for just looking and wondering.