Some people relax by going to a movie, a sporting event, the beach or the woods. But put me in a museum and I’m happy camper. The quiet environment, the colors and the centuries of history not only soothing but also visually stimulating.
Recently I took a chartered bus trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. For tourists and resident alike, this is a must-see. Billionaire J. Paul Getty used his wealth to establish two art centers in the LA area-the Getty Center and its gardens in Brentwood and the Getty Villa, which houses Greek and Roman antiquities, in Pacific Palisades. Admission to either one is free but parking is $15 (there’s no free street parking at either site).
The Getty Center has five buildings, each housing a different time period of art from medieval to contemporary. Since my time was limited I missed the modern era entirely and skimmed through the rest (note to tourists: plan to spend two days).
What fascinated me was how the artists used nothing more than a thin layer of paint on a flat canvas to create realistic scenes. Some of the works were so detailed they seemed like photographs. The nuances of light and shadow, skin tones, clothing folds, leaves on trees, animal fur-the masterpieces were breathtaking. Amazing how the right combination of lines and hues could trick the eye into “seeing” a three-dimensional landscape.
Many of the paintings were scenes from well-known stories from the Bible or classical mythology. Since I’m well versed in both genres, I could look at the piece and understand the story that the artist was telling.
As I studied individual pieces, I felt as if I was drawn into that world. For a moment I forgot I was I standing in a museum. I was part of the story.
What writers do is pretty much the same. We also create stories with nothing more than print and flat paper-or pixels and screens. Through letters and spaces we create 3-D worlds with lifelike humans and animals. We build buildings, establish cities and even, in the case of sci-fi, create new worlds. We help the reader escape into a different reality.
I’m not as adept with a brush or a chisel as the great artists of the Getty, but perhaps what I do as author is not so different. Using words instead of paint or stone I create pictures in the reader’s mind. I tell stories and construct a world in which the reader can escape. I give birth to characters that, I hope, will continue living through the ages.
What are some of your favorite museums or works of art?