It's completely different: Visiting an exhibition is nothing like looking at images of art in books or online.
Having made a four hour round trip to visit the Tate Liverpool's Chagall: Modern Master exhibition whilst in the UK recently, I can definitely say that making the effort to see art in a gallery or museum setting is time and money well spent.
Surprises in Scale
When we see the work 'live', there are inevitably many surprises in store when it comes to the scale of work. In a book or online, all the work is reduced to the same lilliputian scale which we see from our giant's perspective, but there in front of the work, our whole bodies react to the art, changing the dynamic entirely.
Confronted with a wall completely filled by Chagall's Homage to Apollinaire (a whacking two metres square) gave me a completely different concept of Chagall as an artist – to say nothing of the tremendous appreciation he must have felt for Apollinaire to have put that kind of effort into homaging him. What appears like a little illustration in my book on Chagall, loomed imposing and magnificent on it's solitary wall. Love it or hate it, you couldn't ignore it.
The Magic of the Medium
The same painting jolted my perspective about Chagall's use of media. Great swathes of this painting are rendered in gold and silver paint, something it's impossible to appreciate in a reproduction.
Chagall, it turns out, was a mixed-media artist who never used just paint if he could add ink and gouache as well.
Chagall also used pencil extensively on his canvases – often leaving large areas of his works in this raw state and juxtaposing them with areas of vivid painted colour, an effect whose power it's difficult to appreciate until you see it first hand.
He was a also master at incorporating the most ordinary materials to great effect and cardboard and brown paper were stock items in his artistic arsenal, sometimes mounted onto canvas.
Whether this was by design or necessity, I've no idea but given the turbulent times he lived in, I suspect necessity played a part.
Subtleties of Shade
One of my favourite Chagall pieces The Painter: To the Moon, on seeing it live, turned out to be tiny (30 cm square) and roughly trimmed to an unusual u shape as well as considerably lighter than it appears in reproductions.
Likewise, Love on Stage, 1920 (one of the canvas murals produced for the interior of the State Jewish Chamber Theatre in Moscow, which came to be nicknamed 'Chagall's Box') as well as being huge in scale, is incredibly light and delicate and almost abstract. These characteristics make it nearly impossible to make out the figures, yet even the Tate's own reproductions of the piece, show it with much higher tonal contrast changing the ambience of the piece entirely.
Disconnect your digital devices!
So, even if you can't get to see large public exhibitions like Chagall: Modern Master, it's still worthwhile disconnecting your devices, slipping that coffee table book back on the shelf, and visiting an art exhibition in your local area.
There's nothing quite like getting right in to squint at a brushstroke, and then standing way back to take in the whole piece, to enlarge your appreciation of the work and get those creative juices pumping!
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