I went to see the David Hockney exhibit the other night at The Met (and if you want to see it, hurry because it’s only on until February 25th). Hockney, if you don’t know, is famous–at least in my book–for his California paintings that are large and vibrant and show off the stunning blue color found in backyard pools in Los Angeles.
I believe his paintings are popular because they are so accessible. It’s ‘easy art’ in my opinion, not to diminish it.
Normally at an exhibit like this one, I merely wander from painting to painting, reading the labels and wondering about the food in the restaurant. But on this night, I went on a tour of the Hockney exhibit given by one of The Met’s docents.
She was a pleasant woman and provided a few insights but, as I’ve thought many times before, critiquing an artist’s intentions is sort of like reading tea leaves. It’s a bit of mind-reading. She pointed to one Hockney painting of a fat guy sitting on an art deco sofa and said it was reminiscent of The Annunciation.
Huh? Maybe in some far away dope-smoking docent universe.
What struck me, as this woman described some of the actual techniques Hockney used, is how little I know about the physical act of painting. I have never used acrylic paint in my life, never painted anything more than a room. I’ve always wanted to give painting a go but never found the time.
I used to feel the same way about music. After a brief few months of playing as a teen, I gave up and never picked up a guitar again–until The Beatles’ 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan show. Something clicked and I bought a guitar and began taking lessons.
Three years later, I’m happy to tell you that–unlike painting–I now at least understand the mechanics of music, song-writing and guitar-playing. It’s not like I’d even classify myself as “good” but learning the chords and various songs has been the most fun I’ve had outside a bedroom. I now understand what Dylan and the Beatles and many others were up to when they wrote the songs of my youth.
And you know what? The songs themselves are genius but playing them is totally accessible. The idea that I can approximate the sound of a song like “I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles is….nothing short of astonishing to me.
I went to a lecture about a Beatles book last year and Beatles fan David Duchovny was on the panel and he told the host in all sincerity, “You can learn how to play the guitar like John Lennon.”
He’s right. No one would dispute John’s brilliance at songwriting but the songs themselves are mostly major and minor chords that anyone can learn with some practice. Practice is the key. As Bruce Springsteen wrote in his autobiography, he at first put down the guitar and stopped playing because it hurt his fingers. It does hurt at first! But those calluses do develop.
I guess the point of all this is that I now feel like I’ve stepped through a door to understand the physicality of music in a way I never did before I started playing. I feel like I’m on the “inside” of music albeit in a rudimentary way. I know the Beatles, for instance, love the B minor and A minor chords and the way they and George Martin transformed an acoustic song into something grand and layered in the studio.
I think painting or any creative art is probably very similar. Will I become Hockney in my old age? No but I’m telling you that, someday, if I could even approximate a painting of a bowl of fruit, I’d be delighted! Stay tuned….