Monday, January 18, 2010

Passionate Virtuousity

Barbara and I attend the monthly art history lecture by Rebecca Albiani at the Fry Art Museum in Seattle. My first contact with her was when our daughter-in-law Shannon was a student at the local community college where Ms. Albiani then taught. Shannon came to me, eyes sparkling, and said, “You have got to hear this woman who teaches my art history class!” She was right. I tuned in to the college TV station for a couple of her lectures and, even faced with an auditorium full of nearly art-illiterate teens, she was magic.
Her lecture at the Fry this month was on the feast paintings of Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). In the spirit of full disclosure, that is by far not my favorite period of art and Veronese’s paintings had left me lukewarm – both in books and in person. However, if Ms. Albiani is going to talk about them, I’m more than willing to go listen.
Magic, again. She brings so much information to the lecture that it, too, is a feast. She wove the work into the then-contemporary art scene, the artist into his culture and contemporaries, and both into the political, religious, and cultural environment of the time and place. Her discussion of individual works becomes a grand tour.
Speaking as one who has done a good deal of stand-up teaching, her lectures are incredibly well organized. I would suspect her of reading them from a script – but her answers to questions from the audience are equally well organized and articulate. She just knows the territory.
The icing on the cake (keeping the feast theme) is that she seems to be having such an impossibly good time – her manner suggests that there is absolutely nothing she enjoys more than telling people about some aspect of art that she finds fascinating. One of my favorite quotations is by John Barth: "My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in lovemaking. Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill; but what you really want is PASSIONATE VIRTUOSITY." That’s her. Just being around people who show PASSIONATE VIRTUOSITY about their art – or science – or craft – or life -- charges my batteries.
I’m still not ready to put the Veronese paintings on my favorite list but the next time I see one in a museum I will certainly look at it more closely. Ms. Albiani is going to do a series on Vermeer beginning next month. I can hardly wait.

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