Runcible Blog

Girl With Portfolio

guillaume lethiere portrait

This was the most beautiful portrait I found at the Worcester Art Museum today. It's a painting by Guillaume Guillon Lethière from 1799.

For the most part, I don't like art museums. They're usually about the lifestyles of the rich and dead. And only the major art museums end up with the good stuff – the rest are filled with odd trinkets, portraits of long-forgotten inbred royalty, and whatever crap on a canvas passes for contemporary art this month.

More seriously, it's the obsession with objects plucked out of the world and preserved indefinitely that seems most unhealthy. I walk briskly through the exhibits on furniture and pottery – what good is a chair that will never again see a rump? Or an ancient ceramic piece that may have been useful 500 years ago but now just sits behind glass, inert as a stone? It's almost as heartbreaking as visiting a zoo filled with dying animals.

I also feel that curators probably have no taste. Because they're in love with art as a concept, they have to be fair to the various genres and epochs of art, even the really crappy stuff. The alternative – that they actually appreciate everything hanging on the walls – strains belief.

As I strolled through the museum, it was plain to see how much of the art is an expression of a limited ego. Whether it's a representation of some pasty royal with an inflated ego, or it's a postmodern blob of goo on top of an advertisement, either case portrays an extremely constrained view of things. Then, to go ahead and enshrine these expressions of ego by hanging them on a wall (sometimes next to an insufferable artist statement) in an elaborate building, makes the whole endeavor seem like farce. There's very little to see that moves the soul; it's an almost purely intellectual exercise, which, in my view, misses the mark of what art ought to do.

But then again, sometimes I come across something like The Girl With Portfolio, and I'm stopped in my tracks. Maybe those museums are worth keeping open, just in case...