Aha! Moment

By the time I reached Amsterdam in the summer of 1990, I had already traveled through France, Italy, Austria, Spain and Germany, mostly looking at art along the way. I had been studying art history and had experienced plenty of emotionally charged interactions with some of the most incredible art in the world. You know, those moments when you really feel like you understand the art that’s in front of you. You feel engaged, moved, enlightened……..not necessarily in some heavy handed, academic way. You just get it.

One of my favorite, Aha! Moments came when I walked into the room housing “Nightwatch” (http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/aria/aria_assets/SK-C-5?lang=en) by Rembrandt. I had just finished some of Amsterdam’s finest when I walked into the Rijksmuseum on a hot August day. I had studied the painting in a couple of different classes and could not wait to see it in person. I was awestruck. I sat down on a bench in front of the painting and put Black Sabbath “Paranoid” on my Walkman. I think I sat there for the entire album. It is hard not be struck in some way by Nightwatch, mostly because of it’s size at 11′ x 14′. It fills an entire room. But there is so much more.

Here’s a quick art history lesson. “”Nighwatch” or correctly called “The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburchwas commissioned by Captain Cocq in 1642 to depict his band of Arquebusiers. Basically, they were civic guards that had evolved into a social club by the time Rembrandt painted them. Lots has been written about the painting, it’s meaning and hidden meanings. I won’t get into all that. At that moment, I just appreciated the painting for what it was, an incredible piece of art. Rembrandt was truly a master. His use of light makes the figures jump out at you. I sat there and made up stories for each of the militiamen and some crazy explanations for the little girl.

Believe me when I say that Black Sabbath was an excellent soundtrack to Nightwatch. For at least a half an hour, I escaped into that painting. I enjoyed it on my own terms, not because it was famous, not because of the history, not because any of my professors told me I should. It was just cool to sit there with my headphones on and be absorbed by this incredible work of art.

I guess that’s the point in my first ever attempt at a blog, it’s OK to like art on your own terms. You don’t have to be academic or all knowing about art or art history just to appreciate it. You drive a car, but you’re not an Engineer. If you see a piece of art that moves you in some way, if it sparks a memory, or stirs an emotion or you just think it looks cool, that’s OK. The most important meaning in any work of art is the meaning you take away from it. So don’t be afraid to walk in to that museum or gallery next time. You might find your next Aha! Moment.

My experience with Nightwatch was just one of the “artistic” Aha! Moments in my life. I hope they never stop. I’d love to hear about some of yours.



1 Response to “Aha! Moment”

  1. 1 Eric Seat
    June 29, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Excellent post, Chris. I felt similarly about Ed Hopper's "Nighthawks" when it was recently displayed at the National Gallery of Art in DC. I had seen it countless times in reproductions and felt somewhat indifferent to it until I saw the piece in person. At that moment, I knew no photos had done the painting justice. I stood in awe for at least half an hour admiring the drama and "story" of the visuals, the mood and atmosphere, and the carefully chosen color palette. Above all, however, I mostly impressed by the sheer brilliance of the composition.

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