Monday, May 19, 2008

A Moment in Time

"I assure you no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament ... I know nothing."-Edgar Degas

The Philips Gallery is in many ways one of DC’s most unique museums. In fact, the Philips, which opened in 1921, was actually the first museum of modern art to open in America. Unlike the National Gallery, the National Museum of African Art, and many of the city's other museums, it is not a massive building designed specifically for its current use. Rather, it is a small museum which was formerly the home of owner, Duncan Philips. I remember the first time I visited this museum; I was so enchanted that I longed to move in and make the museum my home. I still harbor this unrealistic dream of living in a similar city home surrounded by beautiful art.

Recently, a new exhibit called Degas to Deibenkorn: The Philips Collects, has come to the museum. As its title indicates, a wide variety of artists are incorporated into this one exhibit: Hans Hofman, Ansel Adams, Elizabeth Murray, and Sean Scully to name a few. Needless to say, the works are not limited to just paintings. Photography, paper works, and sculpture are also included. However, among all these artists, it is Degas that attracts me most to this exhibit. It is not that I dislike the works of the others, but Degas and the related impressionist style have special appeal to me.

Although Degas painted in the nineteenth century, I believe the concepts on which he based his works are still very applicable to today’s society. Degas adamantly rejected the label impressionist; however, he, like other impressionist artists, painted pictures which captured one single moment in time. Essentially, his paintings are like snapshots which forever preserve the actions, movements, and emotions of on fleeting instant. In some works, such as Dancers in Pink, figures are actually cut off to emphasize Degas’s ability to portray a split second in the scope of all time. Degas used this technique to comment on the ephemeral qualities of life. Many people rush through life without ever stopping to appreciate the small things occurring around them. Thus, Degas focused on the transitory moments of life.

In modern times, society pushes people to move faster and faster. Many children are raised to live by the phrase, “time is money.” New technology and tools such as cell phones, Blackberries, and iPhones further increase the speed of the average person’s life. Therefore, it is often rare for people to take the time to appreciate individual moments whether they be extremely important or seemingly inconsequential. It is entirely possible that such people will find their lives flying past them without truly realizing it. Recently, I myself have been victim to this reality so much so that I have not even found the time to visit the exhibit at the Philips Gallery. Soon, however, I hope to slow down my own pace enough so that I can enjoy the works of Degas and his fellow artists before the exhibit is deconstructed. Thus, it can be seen Degas’s themes are relevant in today’s world and will probably be so for generations to come.

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