“Have you seen this writer?”
I haven’t written a blog post on here in a LONG time. I can rattle off a litany of excuses: my schedule, my personal life, my daughter, my writing priorities. But the simple fact is I’m not a blogger. I don’t have 2000 words about my life to share every week. I don’t want to keep making lists, giving writing advice, things like that. My brain just doesn’t work that way.
But I still want to contribute. I still want to honor my commitment to my Téssera partners who have done an amazing job of keep this site going. So here’s what I’m going to do. This spot, my Tuesday blog post, is going to become a very simple and short thing called “Art I Like”.
Whenever I can, I’m going to write a short piece about something that inspires / entertains / moves me. Books, comics, TV, movies, video games, poems, and, in the case of this post, actual “art”. These won’t be long posts and I won’t be doing many movies (I talk about movies too much in my day-to-day, plus I may have another outlet for that coming up and don’t want to double-dip) but I will try to keep up. Make some contribution to this venture I have undertaken with three very old friends.
So, without further ado…
ART I LIKE, EPISODE I:
Real brave choice, Chad. Starting off with one of the most famous pieces of art in the whole history of art history.
Yeah, well, shut up, Me.
We all know the image. A naked man carved of marble. A sling over his shoulder, looking defiantly at the biblical villain Goliath, ready for battle. It’s a widely replicated, referenced, and lampooned images in art. And what’s the big deal? It’s just a statue of a naked dude.
At least that’s what I thought.
Until I found myself in Florence standing in front of the real thing.
Sculpted between 1501 and 1504 by a 26 year-old who would centuries later become the namesake of a talking amphibian party dude wielding nunchaku, “David” is the most recognizable piece of Renaissance art this side of the “Mona Lisa” (which I’ve seen as well and is…well, just like everyone else says… dreadfully underwhelming).
I’m no art historian (not even close) but you can read about its fascinating history here. All I can really talk about is how it made me feel:
It moved me to tears.
Four years ago my wife and I were doing the Italian tourist’s trifecta: Rome, Florence, Venice. Midway through the trip we hit the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, known solely for being the modern-day house of “David”.
Upon drawing close to the statue, which is at the end of a hallway lined with other aborted and half-formed Michelangelo sculptures…
…the 17-foot figure loomed closer and closer and when I finally stood in its shadow, only one thought came to my head:
“Do you know how fucking hard that was?”
The sheer level of skill stunned me. To take a block of marble –a shapeless, lifeless hunk of metamorphic rock- and sculpt it into the marvel standing in front of me, it was breathtaking. This was something created over 500 years ago and I don’t think any human living today could replicate it.
So, first and foremost, before observing the beauty of the piece, what hit me hardest was the skill and talent involved in bringing it to life. Not that “David” isn’t beautiful. It truly is. The art world (especially the art of current pop culture) has long been obsessed with capturing the perfect female form (or, in comic books or Barbie dolls or Pamela Anderson, the impossible female form), to see the male body depicted in such meticulous detail and care is refreshing. I know museums are filled with depictions of naked men, but “David”, in all his glory, so to speak, is above and beyond.
The other thing that strikes you about “David” (other than the talent needed to create it) is the emotional complexity Michelangelo brings to the legendary Biblical hero. When looking at the sculpture head-on, the traditional view (yes, the one with his manhood right in front of us), he looks ever the hero, what with all his muscle and his sling, standing up to the monster Goliath. You know the image. It’s on that awful apron that your least-favorite aunt bought you on that Mediterranean cruise she took:
But a real perk of seeing the work in person is that you can walk around it. See it from all angles. And if you wander around to the right of the display (to David’s left) and look at his face, he looks frightened. I don’t know how to explain it, but he does. That, while he is willing to stand up to the Philistine giant, he does so with not only defiance and bravery, but with fear and reluctance as well. It is masterful work, being able to depict that kind of nuance in unmoving, unchanging, stone is beyond my comprehension.
I had expected to look at “David” for maybe fifteen minutes but had to be dragged from the building after nearly an hour of just gazing upon its perfection. Never in my life has a piece of art (talking fine art, not movies or books) moved me like that. I’m unsure if it will ever happen again.
Realizing that there was once a man (who was neither turtle nor ninja, but, being Italian, probably did like pizza) capable of bringing such a perfect and complex figure into existence from a chunk of dead minerals using only simple hand tools and his immeasurable talent, was a humbling, inspiring, and awesome (in the proper use of the word) experience, one I will never forget.
I have not done this great work justice. Who could? I only have the clunky English language with which to express myself. It’s like trying to explain the power of La Traviata or the Fifth Symphony or Kubrick’s 2001 with stupid boring words. Can’t be done, even for a (begin sarcasm) world class wordsmith like myself (end sarcasm).
If you ever find yourself in Italy (and I highly recommend that you do at some point), please, between the eating and shopping and eating and sight-seeing and eating, please take the time to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia (make sure to reserve tickets in advance) and gaze upon this masterpiece with your own eyes. I know you think you’ve seen “David”, but you really haven’t. I promise.
Next time I do this (whenever the hell that is; I’m trying folks, I really am) I’ll talk about something more accessible that won’t require a plane ticket and passport to experience. A book, a video game, an album, something. I don’t know what. I’m making this up as I go along.
But it might be a about my favorite poem of all time, written by a little-known alcoholic named Edgar.