Visit To Art Museum Essay, Research Paper
Looking at Pictures (Berger) Final Draft
Upon receiving the assignment to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and pick a painting that ?seems silent and still yet invites conversation? I was originally frustrated and wanted to just get it over with and pick out the first painting I saw. However, once I entered the museum my stress and frustration decreased and I wanted to take the time to appreciate the artwork and find a piece that thoroughly grabbed my attention. The classic quiet building put me at ease and I began my search. I passed many European paintings until one particular painting struck my eye. It was a painting that ?spoke? to me and induced conversation among the other visitors of the museum as well. The painting possessed a beauty and a magnetism that I was drawn to. It was an oil painting by Francois Joseph Navez titled ?Pilgrimage in the Roman Campagna?. The painting wielded mystification. By Webster?s definition mystification means to perplex or bewilder. However, it is not the painting in itself that causes confusion, it is the perception of the observer to the painting in collaboration with the meaning the painter intends to portray. In this case Berger?s definition of mystification as ?the process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident? seems more appropriate (Berger 112).
?Pilgrimage in the Roman Campagna?, also titled ?Visit to the Miraculous Shrine?, instantaneously forces the spectator to see the painting in two different ways, before even looking at the painting. The person could perceive the painting?s significance as being the actual pilgrimage that was taken, or could deem the importance as being the ?miraculous shrine?. Navez forces this elucidating division in several ways. Firstly, the painting has many focuses. One of which is the imagery of the peasants. A melancholy sensation emanates from these peasants. As a spectator myself, I found difficulty in diverting my attention away from this particularly somber setting. My ardent concentration on the peasants? expressions and the underlying meanings they provoked prevented me from seeing that perhaps the meaning Navez was trying to convey was quite different from anything having to do with the actual presence of the peasants. Perhaps the painting had little to do with the peasants? journey at all. Maybe the true significance of the painting lied in the ?miraculous shrine?, hence the reason for the double named painting. Were the two titles, ?Pilgrimage in the Roman Campagna?, and ?Visit to the Miraculous Shrine?, possibly another ploy to stupefy the onlooker of the painting? The aestheticism alone was enough to divert the attention of the observer away from the artist?s true implication. Navez?s painting mystifies the spectator and coerces him/her to decipher the true meaning of the piece of art. When I looked at the painting, I saw many things. There were five female peasants dressed in exotic peasant like attire. The facial expressions of the peasants seemed to express distress and longing for something. Perhaps the expression exuded from these peasants is Navez?s way of illustrating the tormented and arduous lives they led. The colors were vivid, yet the aura was somber. What seemed to be that main character in the painting was kneeling down, facing the shrine wit her hands clenched together as though she were praying. This shrine could have symbolized the solution or miraculous occurrence that was anticipated by the peasants. Another woman looks into the sky with her finger on her chin, as thought she is gravely foreseeing what is about to happen. There is a male peasant kneeling on the ground as well, who appears to be praying or searching for salvation. One of the female peasants is holding a long cane-like object and stares at the ground. The other female peasant is leaning over a wreath holding her hand to her head in sorrow. She is holding the hand of a little bow behind her, (perhaps her son) whom looks very concerned. Everyone in the painting is barefoot. It seems like everyone is ?visiting this miraculous shrine?, to await a response to their prayers. The peasant?s appearance of a search for salvation was perhaps Navez?s way of exhibiting their spirituality. According to Webster?s dictionary, ?spiritual?, is defined as ?of, like, or pertaining to the nature of spirit, relating to religion; sacred?. This sanctified scene, if you will, sets the tone for Navez?s intriguing work of art.
After observing the painting with my own eyes, I listened to comments from other people passing by. I heard several comments regarding the appreciation of the painting aesthetically. However, nobody commented on the significance of the painting. It would have been interesting to hear comments from bystanders so that I could compare my interpretation with theirs and perhaps hone my knowledge of the painting. Since I was not successful in that aspect, I looked to the plaque beside this beautiful painting to see what Francois Joseph Navez was thinking when he created this masterpiece. To my dismay, the plaque gave a brief biography of Navez but no discussion of its true significance.
After reading John Berger?s essay titled ?Ways of Seeing?, he helped me to better visualize and comprehend the meaning behind the painting. Perhaps it is not the meaning Navez implies but the meaning with regard to the perspective of the creator of the artwork. Berger discusses mysticism in his essay and how every painting along with every photograph entitles everyone to his/her own perspective. Berger states, ?An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved for a few moments or a few centuries. Every image embodies a way of seeing? (Berger 116). It is after reading Berger?s interpretation of ways of seeing that I have learned to appreciate the distinct divisions of interpretations and messages that Navez intends to elicit in ?Pilgrimage in the Roman Campagna?, or ?Visit to the Miraculous Shrine?. Perhaps Navez himself had a reason for providing the interpreter of the painting with so many paths to mender. Perhaps he only had one reason as to what the meaning of the painting was. Whatever the case may be he is entitled to his perspective, just as myself and the visitors of the Museum of Fine Arts are entitled to theirs.
Whatever the reason may be for the appreciation of Navez?s artwork, whether it is for aesthetic beauty, for what it means to the observer, or what it means to the artist, is irrelevant. I must agree with Berger?s theory in that there are infinite possibilities of how that painting could have been seen as well as how it could have been done differently. The real significance of the painting lies in the eye of the beholder.